Do you have a photographic ethic?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Norma Desmond, Apr 6, 2010.

  1. In a couple of recent threads, the relationship between ethics and photography has been touched on. In what ways do ethics, if at all, relate to photography?
    Among people who see some photographs as art, there are those who maintain that art is above ethics . . . it is expression and anything goes. I'm not one of them, though I give more leeway to expressions than to other actions we perform. Photographs that are other than art also bear on ethics.
    I am responsible for my photographs. I make them and commit to them. I am also responsible to my subjects, and to viewers to some extent. I have little control over viewers' interpretations. Nevertheless, I bear a degree of responsibility for what I put out there. I don't have it all sorted out, but in often shooting middle-aged gay men, and by creating intimacy and expressing vulnerability, I am portraying someone's humanity and that strikes me as coming with at least some self-imposed or intentionally-decided obligations. Those obligations don't have to be restraints or restrict my expression. Ethics can and does enhance my expression.
    I have a desire to be, and for my photographs to be, genuine, even when staged and "manipulated". This genuineness has little to do with "candid" or "spontaneous" and more to do with personal motivation, intention, and stance. For me, being genuine, photographically and otherwise, requires my active participation in what I'm doing. Though I may at times feel led by my camera, I can't escape certain things by feeling that way.
    Have you ever taken a photo or not taken a photo because you felt it was partly your duty or because it went against your values or morals? What about your photographs overall? Are you doing good or are you having fun (not mutually exclusive), or practicing in a realm of ethically-free beauty or aesthetics? There can be good in bringing beauty or a personal perspective to light. There are other photographic goods: making people aware of political and social goings-on, exposing things that have been hidden, etc.
    Among documentarians, photojournalists, and forensic photographers, there are various "codes" against fabricating or manipulating photographs in order to misinform or mislead. Do you respond to that code or any sort of code?
    Moral obligations may be owed when shooting people on the street and when shooting homeless people. Do we owe homeless people something? Do we owe it to our viewer to show them what homelessness is like? How do we do that? (At what stage could good intentions cross over into superficial pathos?)
    What might we owe ourselves?
    Some will not separate personal from photographic ethics. To an extent, I don't. But I think it's not a bad idea to take a look at how those ethics may or may not influence the making of our photographs. And finally, how do photographs (our own or others) influence our ethics?
  2. Every form of human conduct - including communication, and thus including photography - has ethical implications. Certainly photography has some of its own special ethical nuances. I think you've nicely described the landscape, Fred, and raised the right issues.

    In response to one of your questions: yes, I absolutely think twice about some shots or about when/whether/how to show them. For example, I spent Saturday working with a portrait subject and his bird dogs. Hunting happened, and ultimately, partridges were had for dinner. Photographs of the day's happenings have huge potential for being seen out of context. It's my duty to compose/show photographs that provide as much context as possible, in order to convey my subject's own ethics as they applied to what he was doing, and how he did it. I have a very serious obligation to him, in that regard.
  3. Fred -
    Excellant points and I'm sure a good conversation starter.
    Since I shoot mostly sports / weddings / portraits - I'll answer from that perspective -
    1. Yes - there are some shots that I don't take - or if I do - they don't make to anywhere beyond my computer. Example: 2 weeks ago I was shooting a hockey tourney... one of the games got a little chippy toward the end - and a cheap shot was taken by one of players... The player who was cheap shotted decided to retaliate and proceeded to knock the first player out cold. While the player was down on the ice - my camera was down also. Once the player got up - the camera came up again.
    2. As a sports shooter who works hard to get contracts / gigs - Ethically - I won't sell or give out photos from events that have an "official" photographer. I'll take photos of my own kids at the event, but I won't post for sale or distribute photos that I take beyond my portfollio. They work hard for their money - why should I undercut their business. I'll stop by their booth and look at their setup and their work, but again - I won't sell or distribute my work.
    3. Manipulation is one of the biggest trip words out there... Is it manipulation if I touch up a photo at the request of a client? If I clone out a distracting background artifact? If I crop the photo? If I adjust colors / exposure? Unless you're shooting HARD NEWS stories - then go to it... Don't ask and I won't tell...
  4. I think caricature is unethical in photography. It violates all my ideas of what photography is about; it inverts what I value in the medium.
  5. Interesting topic, with the rise of 'civil journalism', twittered newsphotos and blogged hot-before-the-press stories, one that, in my view, has a great social relevance too (besides the more obvious personal relevance).
    It's a two-edged sword, this phenomenon, but after a few pictures with all gory details of a car accident, I'm yearning for professionals who know when to stop.
    Now I'm a casual photographer, so I do not encounter the tricky situations as much as the first two answers (whose considerations are also more serious). I can only put in what I see in what I do and watch, and throw in another $0,02. Apart from that, I'm all questions on this point, so I'm very anxious to see more input from the more experienced.
    There is a tiny edge of inconsistent ethics on my behalf when it comes to showing pictures. I have no issue with posting photos on my website (or here) of strangers, that is: strangers to me. But I do find posting photos with family members, friends etc. clearly in them unnerving and invasive in my and their privacy. Likewise, all the albums on flickrs, facebooks and webshots with very personal material makes me feel like peeking into people's life more than I want. But not when I see photos here on the street and documentary forum. So, it's like the intent of the photo defines its ethics - but where is the line? What is invasive, what isn't? (I'd love to hear papparazzi in a non-defending way on this, by the way).
    Accidentally, it's exactly the reason why I find the street/documentary photography very hard to do for me. I've got tons of pictures I did not make because I felt wrong about it. I am just having fun as a photographer, and as such, I feel I have less obligation and less rights to make some photos, and less reason to invade other people's life.
  6. My values define to me who I am. The separation of art, or photography, from ethics is something I find myself unable to accept. I’m with Fred in not being one with those who aver that in artistic expression “anything goes”.
    I hold myself wholly responsible for my photographs, generally trusting my instincts. Rarely has it misguided me into clicking a photograph I may realize later to be of dubious ethical merit. Self-policing comes naturally and easily to me.
    A photograph speaks not only of the subject frozen in the frame, but also of the person initiating the freezing action, ie the photographer. The photographer’s genuineness (I use it in the sense elaborated by Fred), or his lack of it, is often evident in the frozen image.
    When I shoot a person as a subject I would never point my camera down at him – I would either be at approximately his level or be shooting upwards. Shooting down is for what I perceive as objects. Of course exceptions have to be made in some situations where the contrary angle serves to stress a particular point-of-view – or is just the only available option! I usually try and shoot children from their level, or shoot up, rarely if ever shoot down.
    It pains me when I see the great number of photographs on PN which suggest the camera pointed down at a poor soul – in my book it turns the subject into an object. The viewer has no choice but to look down at the unfortunate. These photographs to my mind are self-serving and lacking in any empathy. I cannot respect the people taking such photographs.
    Manipulation is a murky area. With me it is an ongoing debate. I usually go by what I can live with.
    I am not a professional photographer. I do it for my own pleasure. If it were a career, perhaps I would be more willing to compromise with my ‘ethics’. And perhaps not. I don’t know.
  7. Accidentally, it's exactly the reason why I find the street/documentary photography very hard to do for me. I've got tons of pictures I did not make because I felt wrong about it. I am just having fun as a photographer, and as such, I feel I have less obligation and less rights to make some photos, and less reason to invade other people's life.​
    As a okay traveled street photographer, I find the whole "invading privacy" issue a little idiotic and blown out of proportion especially in the west. In Asia, people don't mind so much. Some, actually want their picture taken. It is fun, a great way to start conversations and it's only pictures, folks...not like hacking into your money market account or, say, your email account. Maybe people are a little more defensive in the west but it never stop me from wandering the streets with my cam.
    Being somewhat of a pragmatic situationist, only one set rule for me, I don't give away money for shots at home or abroad...It is a disservice to all other street photogs.
  8. I think I see photography (art or not) as one thing, and personal ethics as another ... but that doesn't at all mean that the first is free of the second. Our ethics (whatever they may be, and they may be very different or even diametrically opposed from one person to another) shape and decide what we do in every area of life. If what we do (in photography, laundry, or anything else) seems to be dissonant with our ethics then we are self deluded about our ethics. So no; I don't have a photographic ethic ... I have ethics, to which I try to make what I do (including photographic work) conform as best I can.
    Yes, there are many photographs I have either not made or not used, because my own sense of ethics dictated I should not. But there have been photographs where one aspect of my ethics conflicted with another ... especially when working in third world war and/or famine zones. How to balance the dignity of the subject against the need to arouse consciences elsewhere? No definite answer ... it varies from one person to another, and often a shabby compromise was the best that could be managed. I suppose (though I don't know from experience) a similar tension would exist if I were to witness the punch up on the golf course: respectful discretion or self censorship, exploitation or truth?
    Now, I very rarely show my social documentary work; never without the informed and considered consent of those portrayed; often only at their specific initiating request. Street photography is different; in that case I apply Julie H's "no caricature" test ... according to my own lights, at least, I start from an absolute requirement of respect for the subject. I perceive things differently from Leslie Cheung (above) but don't imagine that I am "more ethical" than he; my interpretation of how my ethics should play out just lead me to different conclusions from his.
    The portrait, which you (Fred) specifically mention is a very different case from documentary or journalistic work. It is a very specific (though varying greatly from case to case) contract between photographer and sitter. I don't do a lot of portraiture these days, but personally feel that the ethics involved centre around honouring that contract (whatever it may be).
    Returning to the beginning ... art is amoral; it is people (including artists) who behave (or do not behave) ethically.
  9. I suppose that I have a whole slew of unspoken guidelines. I've just never taken the time to list or think about them that much. With your permission I'll brainstorm a bit.
    I don't care for "painterly" looking photographs or obvious composites of different layers (as when a huge moon is overlayed on a moonless photo). If someone else wants to make these "fantastic" images, that's fine, but I prefer a more realistic approach in most cases.
    That said, if I take a photo that LOOKS fantastic - note: fantastic means 'difficult to believe', not 'really, really good' - but is actually a realistic reflection of what was happening at the time, I'm completely happy with that. As photographers we have the chance to show people the world as they have rarely seen it - from different vantage points, in unusual lighting conditions, in challenging weather, in an odd juxtaposition, etc.
    I have no qualms about using post-processing to achieve a natural-looking effect. This isn't an issue when I shoot on positive film, because what you see it what you get. But a RAW file is ultimately a semi-defined glob of data that needs to be shaped in one way or another. As long as the end results look close to what my eyes saw when I took the shot (i.e. close to the JPEG preview image), I'll adjust contrast, white balance, shadow detail, etc. to taste.
    There are a lot of strong feelings on this next topic, but personally I don't like to take photos of people without asking for permission in advance. If you DON'T work this way, that's fine. Candid photography has a long and respected tradition; I just don't feel right about it. There are notable exceptions, but as a rule I'd rather clear it with the person first. It gives the subject a feeling of empowerment which sometimes works in our favor. People decline sometims, but when they agree I usually get MORE and BETTER pictures than I would have by "sneaking" in a shot here or there. Again, this is not meant to be a judgement on any other approach, it's just my preferred method. If I worked as a photojournalist, I'd be more aggressive about capturing candid moments.
    I avoid shooting celebrities when they're minding their own business and just living their lives. They don't need another camera in their face. If they're participating in some event, then the heck with it! I'll take hundreds of shots if I can manage it. But if they're out walking their dog or talking to someone on the sidewalk, I leave them alone.
    I never feed, pet, disturb, move, corral, or threaten wildlife under ANY circumstances.
    I never alter vegetation or any other detail in the layout of a scene except to pick up the occasional piece of stray litter that's blown into the middle of my grand landscape.
    I prefer not to copy other people's photography; I'd rather look for my own locations and vantage points and follow my own eyes and imagination. The last think I want is to spend thousands of dollars traveling somewhere to return with a bunch of somebody else's postcards.
    Occasionally, I turn around and notice another photographer standing beside me trying to take the same shot that I've been working on. In that case, I just smile. The chances of that person creating the same composition with identical settings and filters and focal lengths and focus points is astronomically low. I've stood and shot in locations with friends and relatives, and our shots always look very different.
    I like to seek out unique opportunities. If you're going to create art of any kind, you're not going to really, truly, deeply enjoy the experience until you follow your own muse and realize your own vision. Rather than trying to emulate the works of a historically-significant photographer, look for locations and subjects that the rest of the pack has overlooked. Shoot your friends being themselves. Shoot macros in your backyard. Shoot points of interest in your own area. Shoot a commonplace event in an uncommon way. Take something familiar and use your skills and imagination to make it funny, or beautiful, or sexy, or troubling, or deliciously ironic.
    Think about it. Are Adams and Cartier-Bresson and Avedon and Rowell legendary because their photos looked like someone else's pictures? Or is it because their art was original, i.e. a vision that no one had seen before they came along?
    Let your curiousity roam free. Let go of preconceived ideas and follow your muse with an open mind to see where she leads (as long as it's not dangerous!). When you capture something that no one else would have thought of and turn it into an interesting or compelling or humorous image, that's where the true magic of photography shines through. That's when photography transcends f-stops and ISO ratings and focal lenghts. That's when the photos LEAP out of your HEART instead of just your camera. That's what I want to see when I look over the pages of my portfolio - something that's technically correct and aesthetically enjoyable, but also fresh and insightful and a reflection of my own viewpoint.
  10. Fred-
    I think your choice of the singular form of the word is significant here, whether intended or not, and I remark that you do go on to describe ethics and photography or the interrelation between what we choose to photograph and a civil, social or religious code of behaviour that photographers (as your example) might consider to be morally correct.
    Deontology for photographers? Apart from journalism (and even there it is less distinct as a code to my mind) and forensic science or documentation (and I would add scientific photography), I don't know of any well-described deontology that applies to groups of photographers, as one readily finds in law, engineering, medecine and other professions, and which establish moral values that the practitioners are mandated to uphold.
    In other words, I think that ethical behaviour in photography is judged less categorically and less invariably than in the aforementioned professions. There is a considerable range of latitude in describing ethical behaviour in the arts and photography. I think it always comes back to specific cases and to the individual's moral values as opposed to a group deontology. Thus, the photographer is faced with an ethic or the moral philosophy that will come from his own study of the moral value of his conduct and the principles that are consistent with his approach or a given case. They have not been prescribed by a deontological committee on ethics of the group and acting for all photographers, but primarily on his own values and judgements. He is responsible for himself and not for a collectivity. I have always adhered to that sort of concept, albeit not always successfully.
    I really need more time to think about your topic, and will await that before considering/reflecting on my own personal approaches or dilemnas in ethical photography.
    I would like then to come back particularly to a few sub-topics of this: Legality and ethics; Private and public spaces; Crossing lines; Ethics and taste or fashion in photojournalism; and: Responsibility as humans (beyond that of/to photography). In the meantime, a few comments of myself and friends and others on the subject, mostly as questions at this point:
    "I find it interesting that people will object to a homeless man’s photo being taken, but it’s okay for him to lie there on the street, in his own misery." (which I think relates to "Photography and responsibility") "Simply taking the photo of the homeless man is not, in and of itself, unethical. I think it more lies in your intent. Do you plan to publish the photos for a local homeless shelter in order to raise awareness? Are you planning to publish the photos in the newspaper to try and draw attention to the homeless problem? Or are you simply going to publish the photo and try to profit from it in some way? These are questions that each photographer must answer for him or herself. I’ve wrestled with this plenty of times and there’s never an easy answer." (a case similar to the case of the Benneton photographer Visconti - although the quotation is not from him)
    Or another quote, from NAPPA (press photographers) Ethics co-chairman, John Long, in 1999:
    "Take the very famous photo of the young child dying in Sudan while a vulture stands behind her, waiting. It was taken by Kevin Carter who won a Pulitzer Prize for the photo (a photo that raised a lot of money for the relief agencies). He was criticized for not helping the child; he replied there were relief workers there to do that. After receiving his Pulitzer, Kevin Carter returned to Africa and committed suicide. He had a lot of problems in his life but, with the timing of the sequence of events, I cannot help thinking there is a correlation between his photographing the child and his suicide.
    This is the kind of choice all journalists will face some time in his or her career; maybe not in the extreme situation that Carter faced, but in some way, we all will be faced with choices of helping or photographing."
    And one more:
    "There is a book "The Sexualization of Girls", that delves into how marketers have aimed adult messages at little girls in their efforts to create cradle to grave consumers. Legal (yes). Ethical? (I think that is less clear, but a good example of "Legality and ethics")
    Thanks for the subject Fred, it is really mind-opening. I hope I can develop another 2 cents worth as I struggle next with my own perceptions and experience.
  11. I don't give away money for shots at home or abroad...It is a disservice to all other street photogs.​
    The devil's advocate might point out that FAILURE to tip might also cause problems for other photographers. I suppose it depends on the customs of the locale. If one photographer does something that upsets the locals, countless others may have to deal with unwarranted resistance. The world is full of annoying "no photography" signs. How many were installed in response to the actions of some insensitive shooter?
  12. Leslie,
    Just to be sure: my mention of invading privacy was not a generic statement, but merely how I perceive it. For me, it feels this way, while rationally I know you're quite right that most people (also in the west) do not mind all that much. So I did not try to generalise anything, just a bit of own experience and what I see as 'personal ethics', without wanting to judge anyone else.
  13. Wouter Willemse---
    Sure, got it...I wonder why many photographers feel similar about this issue though. It was not a personal attack, I just see too many similar views (in many forums). And, of course, I treat my subjects with respect but I don't feel I have to say that, it is unspoken.
    Dan South---
    I have traveled to many countries in Asia and I don't think I have been to a locality where you have to pay to photograph. Again, the "no photo" sign is another Western concept/thing.. You might be right, hypothetically, but I don't bother thinking hypos these days...
  14. [going into Devil's advocate mode]
    On photographing people without their consent, I think that *not* shooting is being rationalized as virtuous in order to suit the comfort level of the given photographer.
    If we start with the (unavoidable) assumption that you were there -- you did see, you looked at something enough to think about photographing -- and yet did not to photograph, then consider more closely what you did not do. I would suggest that what you did not do was accept a burden. I would suggest that what you did was deny a relationship, a connection, a responsibility however small. You did not document your seeing and your knowing. You denied your shame; you denied your prurient interest; you denied your voyeurism; you denied your comparative evaluation; you denied whatever it was that made you *want to photograph.*
    I think a strong case could be made that it is more honest and quite likely more ethical to shoot the pictures -- of the homeless, of the poor, of suffering or embarrassment -- and to accept the burden of shame of voyeur/pervert/exploiter (as well as sympathetic/empathic helper) that *is* there; that is ... human. More honest than to not photograph and get off scott free. ("I wasn't there; I didn't see.")
    [No, I'm not suggesting that you should murder, rape, or rob because it's more honest to do what you want to do. I'm talking about accepting responsibility for a relationship, an encounter.]
    Arthur mentions the case of Kevin Carter. He accepted the burden, the shame, and it crushed him. How many others have been in similar situations and, by *not* photographing, avoided the burden, the shame, the confession of failure; the duty, the relationship?
    Shooting the disadvantaged not only shows their shame, it shows yours. I think viewers of such pictures don't like them because of *both* shames and possibly even more so the shame of the photographer because it shames them too.
    You were there. You did see.
    [/leaving Devil's advocate mode]
  15. Of course, in philosophical analysis mode, some homeless will probably curse you and some will be glad that you talk to them like any other human being rather than just being ignored yet, again. Sure, both could happen but, in reality, 90% don't bother one way or another...and that's from first hand experience on the street.
    I do feel there is a lot of truth in Julie's (devil advocate mode) post, however.
  16. Julie, devil's advocate... you make me feel bad now! Compelling case. The only argument I more or less miss is the intent with which the photos are made - holiday photos with homeless photos or journalism are seriously different cases.
    Though the homeless, the poor and the example of Kevin Carter are very strong ones, ethics should especially hold up in such cases. So in that sense the slight bad feel I get is mere another level of shame....
  17. Just a note regarding Kevin Carter: He committed suicide about 16 months after photographing the starving child. Part of his suicide note read: "I am depressed ... without phone ... money for rent ... money for child support ... money for debts ... money!!! ... I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain ... of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners...I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky."
    Attributing his suicide to guilt he felt over photographing a starving girl rather than feeding her is overly simplistic, especially considering the atrocities he witnessed over the course of a decade.
  18. Matt, context relates to the significance of the perspective of the photographer. Some ask whether we've photographed the reality of the situation. Does the reality include this part of the context and/or that part of the context? Does it exclude parts of the context? You bring up not just your own ethics but your portrayal of your subjects' ethics. That portrayal rests, to a great extent, on your shoulders. I'm not sure how many photographers I encounter realize the power they can have at times. Thanks for including that.
    David, thanks, I hadn't considered our relationships to other photographers. On your other point, I respect the decision you made and probably would have gone the same way. Another photographer, ethical also, might decide to shoot the downed man to show the ugliness of the sport, wanting to be genuine but coming from a different perspective. It's rare that I apply ethics universally, in all situations and for all people. It's hard to pin down. On manipulation, I think it's a matter of ethics, as you suggest, in HARD news or forensics and other like matters. I think manipulation is a matter of taste and technique in most other cases. Thanks.
    Julie, we may be understanding caricature differently. Can't it have negative and positive connotations? Some early portraiture grew out of caricature, where physical, superficial, visual features were exaggerated in order to convey essence, what was thought to be "inside". Caricature is also well used by some political and social satirists (Lenny Bruce, who could be self serving but who also provided some very strong, stinging, and effective political and social commentary). Others, like Bill Maher, use it less successfully (IMO). Caricature may be akin to cliché (in this respect). They can be utilized effectively and non-superficially in order to take a point further, or they can be blindly bought into and be not so hot. Caricature can simply be a negative stereotype, which seems to be how you're using it.
    Wouter, my not wanting to invade strangers' lives has ethical and aesthetic components. Knowing that, for whatever reasons, many people don't want their pictures taken unknowingly, I am mostly respectful of that. I have strayed and have made street photos without seeking permission. I feel OK about them, but there is a tinge of moral ambiguity, even a little Jewish guilt. A little Jewish guilt I have come to consider normal for me, so I can live with it. Negative feelings about what I do can be energizing and motivating. Sometimes I may even push what causes self-negativity a bit and it helps me grow and evolve. It can be a tricky balancing act. I take it on a case-by-case basis and try to be as mindful as possible of my motivation and the actual and real (not hypothetical) effects on others. Taking some photos of strangers can be much more compromising than others.
    Rajat, I appreciate the nuts-and-bolts photographic consideration. While you qualify it by saying there are exceptions (I agree) you mention the effect of pointing your camera down. Significant. Now, I have purposely done that to get a certain perspective or effect, sometimes even wanting to shoot a person as object, which I do with the best of intentions and, hopefully, results. But, often, it will suggest an attitude to me and I may think the photographer is simply not thinking. If you can't be bothered to engage from someone else's "level" it can show laziness and callous attitude. This attitude can have very real implications. There may be many great, ethical photos of kids with a looking down perspective that defy these judgments and elevate their stature. Such a perspective could wake us up. A lot depends on intent and whether that can be perceived in the photograph. Thanks.
    Leslie, I understand your difference with many western people and photographers. As you say, these issues can be situational . . . and cultural. I have given money to street people who I've photographed. Sometimes it does feel like an exchange. It doesn't happen often but I've never felt badly doing so and don't think it much affects other photographers. To the extent it might affect other photographers, I figure their situations will be taken care of by their approaches. Most of my actions will have some effect on everyone else and I have to weigh the proximity and likelihood in each case.
    Felix, nicely put. Most ethical dilemmas are fraught with the kind of tension you talk about. If it were easy, it probably wouldn't be all that significant. It's the ones where the rubber meets the road that are compelling, where there are strong competing interests, an individual vs. a greater good, the need to be honest and make public some injustice of suffering balanced against the need for privacy or not to exploit the one suffering. Thanks for the personal and sincere examples.
    Dan, you bring up many great points. I appreciate your talking about ethics in terms of the environment in which you shoot, the world you're affecting. Your first paragraph mentions painterly photographs and composites. You even begin it with "I don't care for" rather than something like "I think it's wrong." I don't see that particular one as an ethical consideration, more a matter of taste. Are you saying more than that. Are painterly photographs in some way wrong for you, or you just don't like them?
    Arthur, I chose "ethic" to convey an overriding guiding system rather than just a choice we make in a particular photograph. I work with underlying core beliefs, though I apply them differently depending on situation and context. Though some photographers may work according to an imposed code (journalists, etc.), for the most part I consider these matters self-imposed and intentionally-guided. That doesn't make them any less binding on me. I do agree that there may be more latitude in the arts in some ways. At the same time, I think "art" can be used as an excuse to leave ethics at the door, and I usually hate when I see that happening. You're right, lawyers have to adhere to (or at least are supposed to) a strict code of behavior, something most photographers don't experience and shouldn't. But, as Matt said, our actions (and expressions) have all kinds of consequences, including political, social, and ethical ones, and many, many artists are obviously aware of those, many dealing directly with them in their work. But many who claim to be artists are oblivious and their claims come off more as an excuse than anything else.
    Julie, Ethics often entail denying impulses, no matter how "honest" they are. I honestly want to steal money from the bank, run by people I hate who I believe have stolen and continue to steal from us. But I stop myself, not because I convince myself that I don't want to do it, but because I know it's wrong. Ethics often supersede my own needs or desires. I do pursue photographic voyeurism. And, what I pursue, I mostly live with just fine. I have crossed the line and had to live with that as well. We can and do ethically deny our own voyeurism often. If we didn't deny it, and we were honest about it, there'd be a whole lot of sneaking into bedrooms to check out things we'd like to be privy too. That would be wrong, though honest. Yes, there are times when we hide behind our shame and it would be better to confront it and develop the relationship you talk about, which is significant. Certainly, with a camera, we can develop a unique sort of relationship. But there can also be a less genuine "relationship" built up when it's mediated by a camera and done in secrecy, depending on how that plays out. The first step when confronting my own shame about homelessness and my own part in it is not to take a picture of it. It's to come out from behind my camera and engage it. That's hard. Perhaps, once I do that, a picture can be of some value. You end by saying, "You were there. You did see." So what? I've said before that the reality of what you saw at the time and what a photograph expresses may be two very different things. Saturating the public with pictures of everything we see may just water it all down. Most pictures of homeless people don't show anyone's shame. They show pathos and they show an often cheap desire to appear compassionate, which involves little or no real or practical compassion. Most pictures of homeless people show the self interest of the photographer and not the interest of the person who's made out to be the subject.
    Mike, thanks for that addition.
  19. I don't post photos of anyone who paid me for their pictures on the web without their written permission. That's why you don't see any of my wedding photos or portraits on my PN gallery. I worked for a newspaper and I took pictures that were offensive to me that I was paid to do and were in the public realm because of the journalistic exceptions to obtaining permission. I do not photograph other peoples kids unless paid to do so or have explicit permission to do so except in a journalistic capacity; namely sports. I have, with permission, taken pictures of homeless. I do it with a dialogue with the subject. I have a couple of street pictures that I will not post on the web because the pictures might be embarrassing to the subjects. I do, on occasion, take street pictures but cannot bring myself to post them, actually. Ask me, in saying all this if I feel like a hypocrite. I do. It does bother me to invade someone's privacy but sometimes I do and have done it anyway. I did it a lot when I was working for the paper (anything to get the picture). Speaking of cariicatures, I have to admit I used direct flash to make some politicians look their worst and enjoyed doing it while I tried hard to make my more sympathetic subjects look their best in the paper.

    As far as my photo business went. I delivered what I promised in a timely manner. I have had very few unhappy people but I never argued fault I just refunded all or part of their money if they were not pleased (I only did it twice in seven years). I worked very hard to please my customers. I also know that that effort was not totally altruistic because it paid off in referrals. I had a roommate when I flew in combat who believed in situational ethics as we both struggled with our calling in air strikes on the enemy and innocent victims. That still sits in my craw as the ultimate ethical struggle of my personal existence. It overshadows all else and will to the day I die. I got into photography after that experience has had a profound effect on my life to this day. I do not really believe that one can use "situational ethics" to excuse certain forms of conduct either in photography or in war. We all have to live with our sins as we perceive them. That's as far as I think I will go except to say that life for me is a continuing struggle to be self-honest about my own motives and ethics.
  20. Dan, you bring up many great points. I appreciate your talking about ethics in terms of the environment in which you shoot, the world you're affecting. Your first paragraph mentions painterly photographs and composites. You even begin it with "I don't care for" rather than something like "I think it's wrong." I don't see that particular one as an ethical consideration, more a matter of taste. Are you saying more than that. Are painterly photographs in some way wrong for you, or you just don't like them?​
    Thanks for the comments. I guess I wasn't thinking of 'ethics' in terms of "do it my way or it's wrong." I was rather thinking in terms of what decisions I would make and why.
    I'm not necessarily opposed to most of the practices that I avoid (except disturbing wildlife and the environment). If someone else wants to make a "painterly" image with lots of post-processing that's fine. I'd even find it interesting to LOOK at, but I'm just not interested in DOING it. I prefer to work on developing a more "natural-looking" portfolio for now, but that said my tastes my change in the future.
    So, yes, some of my points are more matters of taste than ethics. As I mentioned, I hadn't thought this through previously and was essentially brainstorming. Thanks for clarifying the difference!
  21. Julie Heyward
    [going into Devil's advocate mode]
    On photographing people without their consent, I think that *not* shooting is being rationalized as virtuous in order to suit the comfort level of the given photographer.
    If we start with the (unavoidable) assumption that you were there -- you did see, you looked at something enough to think about photographing -- and yet did not to photograph, then consider more closely what you did not do. I would suggest that what you did not do was accept a burden. I would suggest that what you did was deny a relationship, a connection, a responsibility however small. You did not document your seeing and your knowing. You denied your shame; you denied your prurient interest; you denied your voyeurism; you denied your comparative evaluation; you denied whatever it was that made you *want to photograph.*​
    Devil’s advocate mode or not, Julie, this strikes a chord in me.
    Without going into a lengthy explanation, suffice it to say that I have recently been working on a paying project involving photographing Chicagoland residents who are from, or descendants of people from, the Balkan region. Rewind back to 2007 when I lived in San Diego. I had a slight interest in, but not a great knowledge of, the Balkans (sparked by my interest in the Balkan conflict of the early 1990’s). I was in downtown San Diego on an errand and happened to come across some kind of demonstration by what appeared to be foreign students from a Balkan country. I wanted to stop and photograph, but hurried on to my errand, thinking I would go back. Lost opportunity number 1. On my way back, I could see that the demonstration had broken up. But walking toward me were 3 or 4 students from the demonstration still carrying flags and signs. I hesitated and did not lift my camera to get any shots. Lost opportunity number 2. I do not think that there would have been any great objective significance to any photos I might have taken that day. But on a personal level, I regret having missed taking those shots to this day. More so than any other missed photo opportunity I can think of. In Julie’s “Devil advocate” sense, I violated my personal photographic ethics that day. (It’s a separate regret unrelated to this thread, but given how much I now know about Balkan history and current politics, I wish I had at least paid attention to what country the demonstrators were from.)
    Not indulging in reality altering manipulation is a strong photographic ethic with me. I do not want to release a firestorm of debate over this. This is a personal preference and an admitted prejudice…but I should at least give an example of the kind of manipulation I mean.
    Those who read Popular Photography are familiar with the “how to improve your photo” articles…where readers send in an image, or series of images, and Pop Photo editors explain how to make them “better”. Last year there was someone who took a series of shots of a bridge…all from the same perspective, but each shot had different people in them. They showed how to remove an “unwanted” individual on a cell phone, and rearrange the placement of some “desirable” runners for a “better” composition. I cannot do that. I have the PS skills to do it (and have done it in the past…but ended up discarding the altered images) but I just can’t. Not out of a “holier-than thou” position…it’s just something that seems to be hard-wired in me. I don’t care that my photos are not for journalistic or forensic purposes…I just do not like to do that. It doesn’t feel right to me. What others do is their business.
    Homeless people. I am torn in this regard. Personally, I no longer take such photographs (I think I’ve taken 2 in my photographic “career”). While I might think disparagingly of someone who photographs homeless people and applauds themselves on either a.) being a gonzo-gritty street photographer or b.) showing “the plight of the homeless”, I also get tired of reading self-righteous posts by those who chastise such photographers.
    Tons more to mine on this subject (and many tantalizing branches to explore) but that’s all I have time for. Good thread, Fred!
  22. Rethinking some of the things said so far, there seem to be really 2 points of ethics, which I feel are different.
    There is the ethics when you have the camera in your hand. Do you raise it to your eye, or leave it? A common decency, cultural values, differences in how one engages with people or not, shame - this is - to me- the level where your personal ethics speak. Steve's story on the Balkan students' protest.
    Slightly different seem the ethics towards display. The use of a photo; Dick's post lists some very clear points on that. The intent of a photo may start to play a role here, but also its potential social impact. Decency and cultural values still play a role, but in a wider sense, and not personal. I've not been in the situation, but I could fully imagine that as a photojournalist one takes a picture which feels completely right in capturing something significant, but which should not be published because it could be explained wrong.
    Rethinking my first post after Julie's devil mode made me feel evil, this came to mind. Mainly because I don't want to be evil, of course :) A proper distinction, or just needless putting labels on things?
  23. Fred, you said:
    "You end by saying, "You were there. You did see." So what?"​
    Because it matters. It documents, it accepts, it commits to the encounter. I am eternally grateful to whoever it was that took the photographs at Abu Ghraib. I claim that it is more ethical that they -- the torturers themselves -- made those pictures than it would have been if they had not done so. They documented themselves; who they were/are and what they did. The making of, the existence of those pictures removes the option of denial.
    This (the question of photographic ethics) is not about the doing of what you see, it's about documenting what has already been done; what is there in front of you.
    You're not evil. I promise. I, on the other hand ... (after all, I work for Mr. Devil).
  24. jtk


    I do life and photography. "Ethics" is a word. It's a favorite of Jesuits and other peripheral verbal-philosophic types, which may tell some of us something.
    Everything I do is defined secondarily by ethics, primarily by "good habits" or "good practices" or "balanced action" that I learned from friends, parents, and mentors. In other words, I value my culture and upbringing. Note especially that I respect, sometimes admire, character flaws. fun-seeking, risk taking, and various other erratic behaviors.
    Photographically, my nominally "ethical" concerns are rarely challenging. When I was working professionally I didn't like to work with models...because they seemed empty people. My Navajo friends might think them damaged animals, even "skin walkers", but I gave them more credit than that. I did, however, like to work with ballet dancers, actors, and business people because when I spoke with them and watched them do what they do, they seemed to be fully human.
    My current work is concerned with various minor issues of drama, which to me has to do with tension and unresolved questions. Tension and unresolved questions exist in universes parallel to 'ethics," if one gives "ethics" credit for existing conceptually.
  25. Julie, while your point about Abu Ghraib could be persuasive (it's not to me), the greater point your devil is making still doesn't wash. There are, of course, many cases where it is ethical to take pictures. That doesn't mean there's a moral imperative to do so. The reason even your point about Abu Ghraib doesn't persuade me is that, while the existence of the pictures is considered by many a good to society, the intentions of the photographers were not necessarily good at all. This goes to my own point that what happens in the moment of capture does not always translate either interpretively or ethically to the pictures themselves. A good can come of a bad and a bad can come of a good (the old saw: the road to hell is paved with good intentions . . . well, bad intentions can also lead to good results). The ethical good may be in the photos but doesn't redound to the photographers. What we're talking about is the ethics of the photographer in his or her decision-making. By your logic, we'd have to take every picture we possibly could and never stop because we'd never know whether we might capture that one picture that could change the history of the world for the better. The Abu Ghraib photographers would have HAD to take those pictures not knowing any good would come from it on the chance (which turned out to be so) that the pictures would do some good. Since that certainly didn't seem to be on their minds at the time, we can be happy they took them without having expecting that they should have. I could see maybe hoping that someone present would have seen the potential good in taking photos and done so, but even then I'd really hesitate to burden them with the obligation to do so . . . because . . .
    . . . An imperative TO REFRAIN from doing something bad is not equivalent to an imperative TO DO something good. Many systems of morality talk about the wrongness of actions that cause pain and the rightness of actions that promote happiness/general welfare. But they're not really two sides of a coin. That's why we have laws against rape that few rational people would question but there's a much more gray area centering around good samaritan laws, whereby we might enjoin people who witness a rape either to step in and stop it or to report it. There are often many significant reasons -- often risks to one's own safety or well being -- why one wouldn't or shouldn't have to accept a burden to do good. There are far fewer good reasons why we shouldn't have to avoid doing others harm.
    There are laws against stealing but there are no laws saying you must give charity to those less fortunate. There's a reason for that. It's relatively easy to comply with the injunction against stealing (for most people). It would be an unbearable burden to be compelled to give to those less fortunate. You could never fulfill the latter, because there will always be someone less fortunate than you and, to fulfill it, you'd have to sacrifice way too much than should reasonably be expected. Insisting that people ethically photograph homeless people is not only impractical, it's not really morally compelling any more than insisting everyone give to those less fortunate.
    Your claim that we would have a burden to photograph homeless people because it documents is unpersuasive. Documenting can be repetitive and can render itself useless when repeated with no new insight or information. There is plenty of documentation of homelessness. Much more of it would be simply redundant.
  26. Dick, I'm glad you talked about feeling like a hypocrite because I often feel that way, too. I think that's the tension I was referring to. Most significant acts have a bit of a give and take. Life and interactions can be messy and often aren't black and white. Shooting people on the street bothers me as well, at least on some level. Yet, I've done it and can live with it. I judge it case by case, but sometimes even do it despite a certain judgment I make. I overwhelm myself sometimes!
  27. Steve, thanks. I think much of this is personal and that's how I hope I posed the question and many seem to be taking it . . . in terms of what each of our thoughts are and how each of us chooses to act. I expect that many of us will make different ethical choices and I respect that. That doesn't mean I don't sometimes judge what other photographers do. I wouldn't be honest if I claimed to be without those judgments. But I do try to modulate those judgments and accept that each of us has to live with ourselves. I guess it's up to each of us to determine when someone else is causing so much harm that we feel we should or could step in and say something or do something to try to change their actions.
  28. Fred. Probably as you have, I have had many situations in life where you are damned if you do and damned if you don't and you can only await the outcome to determine the efficacy of the decision. And, parenthetically whether that decision was ethically correct in ones mind. Black and White only comes in photographs but surely not in life.
  29. My ethics can be reduced to "Be kind".
    Matt: "Photographs of the day's happenings have huge potential for being seen out of context. It's my duty to compose/show photographs that provide as much context as possible, in order to convey my subject's own ethics as they applied to what he was doing, and how he did it.
    ...and the issue of hunting is a touchy one in the US. It is a vanishing sport, due to many reasons. I used to do a lot of hunting, now only when invited. Depictions of hunting are very carefully constructed, depending on who's doing the photography and for whom. Context is mutable, both by the photographer and how the viewer interprets it. There are many realities to any visual situation. The photographer, wittingly or unwittingly, emphasizes some, even discards others. The client's ethics are a big part of life for a pro.
    David, your regard for the photographic community is a thoughtful point. I think we have trait (what Fred calls 'core') and state (situational) ethics. I have no problems with manipulation in my own work , but rarely take it very far.
    Dick, thanks for the wisdom in your hard-earned lessons. It takes courage to acknowledge doubt, and human frailty, something easily avoided by all of us at one time or another.The harmonics of doubt are like a tuning fork, the work and discipline show us our own way.
    Dick " I delivered what I promised in a timely manner."
    One of my mentors used to say that this was the main difference between an amateur and a professional.
    Julie, I share your feelings about caricature when it comes to mean-spirited or denigrating types. But that is not all there is. Leonardo's caricatures and Daumier's, say a lot about what it means to be human. The origins of street photography have tendrils going back that far.
    Fred "The making of, the existence of those pictures removes the option of denial."
    Hmmm, yes and no. Before they were sent out to others and on their way to becoming viral, it would have been a few keystrokes to make them vanish. And a significant number of them are still denied and kept secret because they show the horrific truth of what transpired there, what we allowed to happen, and most of all, who we are. With regards to what Satan's pro bono barrister (Julie) said, I understand the burden of being a witness. You have to speak up. A photograph speaks on its own.
    Wouter, street photography... is a delicate thing. Many layers, lots at play, including one's responsibility. Every practitioner has to hopscotch their way across that mine field in their own way. For me, it is part of a long-standing artistic tradition in which I (sometimes) partake. I feel love and respect, yes, compassion for the sometimes unwitting participants in a play that is writing itself, in which my role is that of participant and editor.

    Rajat, I have pointed my camera down at subjects, but never to diminish them. Intent matters and manifests itself in one's pictures.
    Leslie, I've found myself in some places with enough hardware dangling from my neck to keep one or two families of the inhabitants alive for a year, if not longer. I understand the implications of offering a gift in return, but speaking strictly for me, I am much more concerned about the people crossing my path, specially the ones who have given me of themselves freely than I am about the zillions of others like me who may follow. When I don't tip in impoverished places, it feels like a kind of imperialism. In the West, I often offer to mail the subject a picture of themselves.
    I went through a brief "Bum Period", until I asked myself what was I doing? Why? I swear, I think I heard that bubble pop.
    Fred - " I honestly want to steal money from the bank, run by people I hate who I believe have stolen and continue to steal from us."
    Wow. I would not have thought Fred had that in him. The idea doesn't even occur to me, though I've had redistribution-of-wealth fantasies on more than one occassion. Speaking strictly for myself, no one forced me to hand my money over to the bank, and for me to do what they did would make me their equal.
    "You were there. You did see." So what?
    You witnessed, you know, you remember.
  30. Luis, you accidentally attributed this to me:
    "The making of, the existence of those pictures removes the option of denial."
    In fact it was the devil in Julie's clothing who said it. I didn't address it but would disagree with it to the extent you have.
    As far as the stealing of money, yes, I do think about it and I can live with those thoughts as long as I don't act on them. Likely an imperfection, of which I have many. I don't agree that an immoral response to a wrong done to you, by an individual or an institution, makes you the equal of the one who first perpetuated the wrong. I understand that two wrongs don't make a right, but I disagree that the two wrongs are equivalent. Initiating actions and responsive reactions carry different moral weights for me . . . again, on a case-by-case basis. I also don't buy the idea that I have a choice about whether to utilize a bank. In an ideal view, perhaps. But practically speaking, they are extremely hard to avoid. I'd say they've got us by the balls.
    Your response to that simple quote -- "So what? -- absent the rest of what I said about it, leaves me wanting. I'd prefer to hear your considered thoughts on the greater context. It says more than the sound bite does.
  31. Luis, it's on my mind so I guess I'll reinforce the context of the sound bite you and Julie seized upon: "You were there. You did see. So what?"
    I said "so what" to Julie's "You were there. You did see." in the context of talking about the ethical rightness of taking pictures of that significant thing you saw. One can witness and know and remember and even recount without the need to take a picture of it. I'm particularly mindful of this having grown up in a Jewish home where my parents, grandparents, community, synagogue, and others were in a constant state of NEVER FORGETTING. As it should be! A worthy admonition. Good that people could bear witness and good that we all will stay mindful. Good that we have photos as proof, though it's not that effective for the hateful few who deny it and don't accept the living and incontrovertible proof anyway.
    By quoting just the sound bite, you and Julie make it sound (not intentionally, I know) like I don't understand the importance of being there, seeing, knowing, and remembering. Of course I do.
    What I'm saying with the "so what" is that I don't translate that into a moral injunction (even self-imposed) to take a picture of it. If thousands of guys are taking pictures of the atrocities that I can reasonably assume will bear witness quite well, then I would have to question my own motivation for taking the picture also. I'd wonder if, perhaps, my time might be better spent doing something else at the moment. And I'd wonder if there weren't something a bit self serving about my need to have a picture of my own. I think these things are open to question and I'm NOT saying we should all come up with the same answers. We all make choices among a variety of actions we can take in a given situation. On the other hand, if I knew I was the ONLY witness, and the documentation were solely up to me or if I felt I had such an intimate and unique perspective that it would somehow surpass most of the other images, I would likely feel a lot more obliged to take the picture.
    I don't find Julie's devil's interpretation of *not* taking the picture of homeless people very convincing.
  32. Fred - "What I'm saying with the "so what" is that I don't translate that into a moral injunction (even self-imposed) to take a picture of it."
    I see what you mean, and I would agree with that. I also don't take a picture of everything I witness. There's one's own visual vectors, atrocity fatigue,the numbing power of cliche's and more that enter into the equation. I agree that this is open to question, and that we all must come up with our own answers. I mentioned above that I went through a brief "Bum Period", until I asked myself what was I doing? Why? I didn't do it again, but I don't look away either.
    Sorry about my mistaken attribution. On the bank-robbing impulse, it wasn't something I saw as a flaw (hey, just because I haven't thought of doing it doesn't mean no one else should). I've always been touched by the Robin Hood story, and not just because archery had a place in my family and heart. It was a surprise to find a bit of Dillinger in you.
    One question that arises with the " who first perpetuated the wrong." idea is that in the real world, it regularly leads to a lethal kind of "Who's on first" morass, with both sides justifying ping-pong atrocities and enormous amounts of waste of lives and resources all too frequently, while both sides claim the moral high ground. It becomes the kind of problem that can only be "solved" by utterly vanquishing the other, or being vanquished.
  33. The Devil is feeling thwarted. Carbuncles for everybody. [Off the record >>> *big smile*]
    But on his behalf, I sense a contradiction in some of the posts above. One the one hand we have the "be nice" ethic. On the other we have the "warts and all; don't even think about manipulating" ethic. On the one hand we are tastefully control what we shoot; on the other, we're told that we darn well better not pretty things up.
    Photography comes with a burden. In many people's minds, photography = history = truth. That umbilical connection to a pre-post-modern conception of a linear history prompts all kinds of ethical imperatives that don't happen to a card-carrying post-modernist.
    Related point prompted by Luis's suggestion that digital images can be deleted in an instant. When is it ethically okay to delete? Who is ethically entitled to delete? Nobody? Only the maker of the pictures? Someone with "better" ethical sensibilities than the maker of the pictures?
    This connection to ideas of history/truth makes photography different from almost every other hobby/avocation. It entails, at some level, a duty -- until or unless you come to believe that there is no connection (to history, or perhaps to society, ethics being a social/communal phenomenon) and therefore no duty.
    Leaving my Devilish job for a moment, I want to mention something really sappy that I take as an ethical part of my photography. Cue the violins and maybe a few trumpets at the end.
    For me, and I suspect for many/most people in fields that are about exploring the unknown -- science as well as art -- I feel a duty, not just a for-myself enjoyment, to ... try to the best of my ability. Having been endowed with reasonable cleverness and capability and the good fortune to possess the tools, the time and the opportunity to make/find/do, I somehow feel more than a passive responsiblity to get to it. To strive. For me, this goes beyond just "doing what feels good" or what I enjoy for no reason beyond personal satisfaction. If I'm not using what I've got to the best of my ability, I feel like I'm wasting a gift and that gift (however small or trivial) is FOR something more than just me. This attitude applies throughout one's life, but, at least for me, the sort of inter-mediary nature of photography-to-the-world carries with it an especially communal/social obligation that is governed and driven by ethical concerns. Corny, sappy, a little bit ridiculous, but there it is.
  34. [Carbuncles are bad enough, but there?]
    I think I fit both hands.
    "When is it ethically okay to delete?"
    When you feel like it. When the towering stack of HDs is beginning to resemble a leaning phallic symbol in Pisa, Italy?
    "Who is ethically entitled to delete?"
    The creator of the pictures. Sometimes the client or the editor.
    "Someone with "better" ethical sensibilities than the maker of the pictures?"
    I've been hired, sometimes by photographers, to edit sets of photographs for the web, books and exhibitions. Editing is not identical to deleting, but it has some similarities. It is a tremendous responsibility to know that one's decisions mean some pictures will likely never see the light of day. I've edited the work of one photographer I consider a genius on more than one occasion. It was extremely difficult to select a few from literally thousands of pictures, any of which most photographers would kill to have taken (OK, a little ethics hyperbole). It is a process of successive approximations and sometimes lengthy discussions about individual images, sequencing, coherence, etc.
    The problem with the duty thing is that there are, as we've recently seen here, many interpretations of history and truth, therefore there are also different kinds of duty. Whether one sees a linear history, a hypertextual one, pandemic, endemic, hermetic, personal, or fictional, everything, every thought and feeling has a past and a future. One can use a multiplicity of words to address it, but the connectedness (and duty?) is there, even if denied. I think this transcends photography, though it does seem more pronounced with this medium.
    Julie - "Leaving my Devilish job for a moment, I want to mention something really sappy that I take as an ethical part of my photography. Cue the violins and maybe a few trumpets at the end....I feel a duty, not just a for-myself enjoyment, to ... try to the best of my ability. Having been endowed with reasonable cleverness and capability and the good fortune to possess the tools, the time and the opportunity to make/find/do, I somehow feel more than a passive responsiblity to get to it. To strive."
    I suffer from an equally sappy and similar dharmic affliction. Here I thought it was Catholic guilt.
  35. Julie, on the matter of some of the contradictions you've pointed to, that's why ethics are so tricky. It is very hard -- and I'm not even sure it's worth striving for -- to be utterly consistent. One has to think about a lot and deeply in order to maintain a consistent ethic and, even then, it will always be easy for another to find holes in your consistency. Since I believe there are a variety of foundations on which a decent code of ethics can be established, different criteria may wind up being applied in different situations. The non-manipulation injunction (self-imposed) may apply in general while specific exceptions to that may be allowed so as to be kind to a subject who might be better served by the removal of warts. As Dick so eloquently stated above, there will often be conflicting ethical interests we face. And humans are bound to be hypocritical at times. Overt hypocrisy and hypocrisy that seems wanton (the kind that allows a politician to espouse family values when legislating and campaigning and cheat on his wife simultaneously) are hard to excuse. The kind of hypocrisy Dick describes, on the other hand, seems expected and understandable.
    Luis, to be honest, the first thing that occurred to me after my post on "who first perpetuated the wrong" is that I should have written "perpetrated." Relieving myself of that shame, I can go on ;))))
    I agree with you only to an extent. The Middle East conflict, for example, is a good case to help make your point. It's gone on for so long and is by now so mired in "who did what first" and "whose more to blame" claims that it seems wiser to let go of all that (as if it could be done), start from the point we're at, be a little practical, and try to move forward rather than dwell on what happened in the past. Sometimes practicality and survival have to trump deciding on what seem like only ideological ethical battles.
    But the counter-argument comes when I think of the case of the religious right in the U.S. and its position against gay people. The religious faction claims that they have every right to think being gay is wrong and therefore the abridgment of the rights of gay people is necessary to fulfill their moral code. (We'll leave aside the fact that a good percentage of the priests advocating this crap are diddling little boys in the protected confines of their churches, one of the great and horrific hypocrisies of our time.) And they think gays are trying to abridge their own religious freedom to be moral and foster that morality by insisting on equal rights. Gay people react to that with some amount of vitriol, telling the fundamentalists and particularly the Mormon and Catholic churches (who spent fortunes overturning approved marriage laws in several states) that they are bigots and trying their best to out-maneuver and out-scream the churches. Many journalists and some news stations will portray this as an equal fight, as equivalent matters, as each group trying to shut the other down or each group simply trying to express themselves. That's ridiculous at this point. Sure, maybe if an actual war ensued between the two factions and real violence were occurring, we'd have to negotiate like we're wanting to do in the Middle East. But at this stage it's pretty darn clear who went after whom first, who the instigators and perpetrators of the wrong against the other are, and who's reacting to being discriminated against vs. who's doing the discriminating. These are not equally competing claims.
    Blacks in the 60s were performing civil disobedience (the disobedient part tells us, in some sense, the behavior was breaking an established moral code). It was the right thing to do, the reaction has been vindicated by history, and any "wrong" aspect of it was not at all the equivalent of the wrongs that had been done to the black community in this country for centuries.
  36. Matt and Luis. On hunting. I did a lot of it before, probably both of you were born. It was more a part of the culture then than it is now. I hunted pheasant behind dogs in the rice fields of California's central valley and skulled a boat in the middle of San Francisco Bay to shoot ducks. We shot a hell of lot more ducks than my mother could reasonably cook for us to eat. We loved the dogs and they got more attention than I did growing up with them. This leads to what I think has been, for me, a real ethical contradiction. How could I care so much for my own animals and then go out and shoot a deer. I did not resolve this internal conflict until exposed to the wholesale killing in Southeast Asia. When I came back I got rid of my shotguns and my deer rifle and have not fired a shot at an animal since. This is visceral. It is not based in any thoughtful rationale; it is just based upon the fact that I cannot do it any more. I just can't. I don't take any moral high ground. I just can't do it. Hunt if you want this is just personal. I have since taken up a camera to shoot birds. Some of which are in my PN gallery. I like that. I stalk just like I used to do in the rice fields only without the dogs. I am very careful not to disturb the habitat. I lead the birds on the wing in the same way that I did with a shotgun. I don't hit many with the camera but I feel better about the pictures than I did about killing my prey. I understand almost all of us eat animal flesh so I am not completely rational about this. My reaction to killing is physiological more thant psycological. I metally wretch at the thought. I am not on any crusade. I believe photography, in this case, helped me solve my ethical conundrum in a positive way. It allows me to still go in the field and enjoy what surrounds me. I took a lot a pictures in Big Cypress and the Everglades in blessed solitude away from any civilized activity. Just the Alligators, a few crocodiles, the birds and me. And all of us survived to live another day. There is no bag limit on how many birds you can photograph in one day.
  37. [Warning, a lot of this is somewhat off-topic. If that offends you, please skip over my post]
    Dick, I'm in my sixties. Back when I was a boy, it seems like practically every male adult I knew went hunting. It wasn't an elitist sport back then. Licenses were affordable, there was enough public land, or generous landowners to go around.
    People even fished out of canoes and old jonboats.
    My own, repeat, my own, ethics regarding hunting go like this: Everything that lives must kill in order to eat. When I buy a steak, I feel I am killing by proxy. Once, decades ago, I worked for a long summer at what was then the 2nd largest meat-packing operation in the world, so I have an excellent, first-hand idea of what goes on there, too. That sums my ethics WRT killing game animals and loving my host's hunting dogs, or my porcine cat.
    I also respect and hold in reverence the creatures I have killed. Eating them was an intimate meal, a kind of primal communion. Almost from the beginning, as a youth I read, maybe in The Golden Bough, how earlier hunters apologized to their prey for killing them, and prayed for the Animal Master to accept their soul, a practice I have engaged in ever since.There's also a version for the plants we kill to eat, and trees we down to build with.
    Curiously, almost all my anti-hunting friends have called me when a beloved pet died, or was about to be put down, for me to remind them of this prayer, or want me to come along, to say it over the body of their beloved. Devotion, respect, and love level most human differences, as we all mingle in one common dust.
    Back to photography...I enjoy watching animals in nature while hiking and kayaking, but have no photographic interest in them.
    Fred - I see your point about the other side of the coin with the "Who's on first" thing. I think we should be careful about generalizations on this topic. When I was a child, I was an altar boy. I was naive as could be sexually, and surrounded by French Catholic priests, and have to say that nothing untoward ever happened to me from anyone in the church. I often wonder just what the numbers are percentage-wise in the Catholic church. The gay "issue" seems so simple to me....but my own sister (who is very religious) is against gay rights, and thinks of it as a pathology -- and sin, of course. As with the race issue, I believe in the end, the turning point with gay rights will be the military service. I'm in solidarity with gay rights, and civil disobedience, having taken part in more than a few acts myself. Yeah, ethics is a tangle, but a worthwhile one to think about and work with. It's not like one finds perfect solutions or anything, but like all organic processes, it's redundant, messy and sticky.
  38. "I often wonder just what the numbers are percentage-wise in the Catholic church."
    Luis, sorry to go further off topic, but consider this. The numbers are only one aspect. (The number of dollars in damages the church has paid out can be viewed as damning enough.) But here's even more reason to suspect the morals of the church (NOT CHURCHGOERS AND NOT ALL PRIESTS, BY ANY MEANS), as it practices them rather than as it preaches them:
    A documentary entitled Sex Crimes and the Vatican, produced by a victim of clerical sex abuse for the BBC in 2006, included the claim that all allegations of sex abuse are to be sent to the Vatican rather than the civil authorities, and that "a secret church decree called 'crimen sollicitationis' ... imposes the strictest oath of secrecy on the child victim, the priest dealing with the allegation, and any witnesses. Breaking that oath means instant banishment from the Catholic Church - excommunication." The documentary quoted the 2005 Ferns Report: "A culture of secrecy and fear of scandal that led bishops to place the interests of the Catholic Church ahead of the safety of children".
    Canon lawyer Thomas Doyle, who was included in the documentary as supporting the picture that it presented, later wrote with regard to the 1962 Crimen sollicitations and the 2001 De delictus gravioribus, and the Church's formal investigation into charges of abuse: "There is no basis to assume that the Holy See envisioned this process to be a substitute for any secular legal process, criminal or civil. It is also incorrect to assume, as some have unfortunately done, that these two Vatican documents are proof of a conspiracy to hide sexually abusive priests or to prevent the disclosure of sexual crimes committed by clerics to secular authorities."
    However, two years later in 2008 Doyle said of attempts to reform the Catholic Church that it was like "trudging through what can best be described as a swamp of toxic waste".
    The Church was reluctant to hand over to the civil authorities information about the Church's own investigations into charges. In the BBC documentary, Rick Romley, a district attorney who initiated an investigation of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, stated that "the secrecy, the obstruction I saw during my investigation was unparalleled in my entire career as a was so difficult to obtain any information from the Church at all." He reported archives of documents and incriminating evidence pertaining to sex abuse that were kept from the authorities, which under the law could not be subpoenaed. "The Church fails to acknowledge such a serious problem but more than that, it is not a passiveness but an openly obstructive way of not allowing authorities to try to stop the abuse within the Church. They fought us every step of the way."
  39. It's not all that off-topic... How can we be ethical about photography if we do not bear a wider sense of ethics inside us? The examples given are clear examples, to me, of unethical behaviour (by the Catholic church denial, the priests who abused their position, by raving "Christians" who condemn gays on basis of misreading a very old book, and racial issues I don't even want to get started on).
    Is it ethical? No, by no means. Moral? No. Is all this human? Yes, I believe it is.
    Being an ethical and responsible person is not easy, and takes commitment, understanding, and it requires the insight to take unethical choices if they serve a larger (ethically justifiable) goal. A lot of people struggle to do this, for a wide variety of reasons. Striving to be ethical is also a luxury (of time, oppurtunity, functional brains etc.). Being a moral person, considerate and respectful to others, is not. It's what everyone should strive to be.
    Julie argues sometimes, there is a "moral obligation" to take the picture, to let you voice be heard. It's not that I disagree, but that freedom does not always exist, and I'm not the right person for all battles to be fought. Crudely said, the world doesn't always work like that. Might be ethical, but impractical. Fred seems to argue that ethics can change depending on who started... it has a nearly childish sound to it, and I cannot really agree. Because I think it shouldn't be like that, ethics should be near-constants., But we're human, and sometimes you need to fight to keep your place. Morally, I have no issues there. And sometimes you need to stay silent and let the storm pass - again, nothing there against my ideas. And many will argue that it's never ethical, and you should turn the other cheek. Personal ethics differ, but for me, the situation dictates a whole lot more.
    Which makes me recall a Dutch documentary on a resistance hero of the second world war. Due to one of his action, several Germans died, and the SS took revenge and killed a lot of people in his village. He felt bad the rest of his life - because he killed people, and because his actions had more people killed. I'd say a highly ethical person, and because of that very condemning of himself. His story tore me up, because he's right, but what he did was also justifiable.
    To speak up, or not: is it ethics, or is it a judgement call? Is it being human, and striving to be as good as possible in being just that, taking the responsibility afterwards for the effects of your choice, but understanding also the limits of yourself and what you can do and cannot achieve?
    Behind your camera, I think you make a judgement call, which has your (personal and cultural) ethics, the situation, oppurtunity and other influences in it. When you decide to publish a picture in one way or another, ethics play a more present role because you must consider your audience, but it still is a situational decision.
    So, am I ethical? No, most probably not, not in the strict sense. But I am who I am, camera in hand or not, and I do have some (moral) values I will try to uphold.
    (OK, I guess it's sufficiently clear now I really have no answers, but I found it a waste to not share some thoughts)
  40. Continuing on my ‘nuts-and-bolts photographic considerations’ theme, here is a link to a blog post addressing ethical concerns in the taking of photographs of people, of wildlife; and ethics in photojournalism. Of course, they are singular opinions and perhaps simplistic.
  41. There were some sub-topics mentioned in my initial comments on photography and ethics that I have thought a bit more about.
    Responsibility as humans (including and beyond that of photography) :
    Each society has its own deontology of sorts. We can see that in the responses above of persons of differing national and cultural background. For instance, and without seeming to appear high-mined, my macro-society (Canadians) rejects the death penalty, believes in social and moral redemption of criminals, established a charter of human rights and the provision of equal medical attention to all of its citizens. Beyond these and some other codes of conduct, the moral and social values of the society ethics are nonetheless there and deeply felt, but more obscure. However, within the society, certain groups, such as the medical doctors and professional engineers I previously cited, possess their own specific codes of ethics or deontology.
    Because photography is so varied in its practitioners and their aims, the situation is somewhat like the varied responses of my fellow photographers in the preceding comments, and in some cases hypothetical responses. The lack of a collective photographer’s deontology (except perhaps in the realm of scientific or journalistic photography) leads to some obfuscation of the matter.
    The moral responsibility of the photographer is important, but is unfortunately not written down clearly as a code for the group as a whole. I believe it comes down to two things, firstly, the defining of one’s personal ethic (as the thread is titled), which in turn, secondly, intermeshes with whatever collective moral values (or ethics) that might be in place in each cultural region. The ethics of Scandinavian photographers will be different in some details from those of a Nigerian, Indonesian or American photographer and will influence the confluence of the two codes.
    I originally mentioned the famous photo by Kevin Carter, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his photo of the young child dying under the patient gaze of a vulture. Some viewers are influenced by the photo and might have intervened rather than passing it off to other aid workers, or at least to use it to militate in eliminating abject poverty and creating a level playing field for the children of the world, while others may consider it as, or simply write it off as, the collateral damage of a war and something we cannot do anything about. It comes down to one’s definition of personal moral responsibility and not something the photographer can ignore because he is somehow remote from what is happening by being behind a camera and its lens.
    When you happen to be in a position where you can help, I think you are morally obligated to do that. The judgement of where and how is perhaps not always clear, but at what point do you decide to stow the camera and help? At what point does your humanity and ethics become more important than getting the image?
    Legality and ethics :
    The use of babies and small children to advertise commercial products is accepted in some cultures and highly disdained in others, as also in the case of the sexualisation of vent children and attempts thereby to create lifetime consumers. Photography becomes a tool in those endeavours. Legal? Yes. Ethical? Not in all societies. The collective moral values of a society add to or subtract from the photographer’s personal ethic. If there are seven or more persons in a scene that is being photographed thee is in many jurisdictions no need for the photographer to obtain the acquiescence of the individuals before using the photograph for commercial use or widespread diffusion. In some cases this recognized legality of not obtaining approval could be unethical.
    A former Prime Minister of Canada, Monsieur Chrétien, suffered polio when young and retained an inability of use of some of his facial muscles. This lead to awkward appearing expressions when photographed and some journals and photographers used these images when portraying the vents en reported vents. Legal, yes. Ethical. I think not (at least not regularly). Caricatures, as I think Julie pointed out, are not ethical, at least not for those other than sketches in the editorial page and meant not to be serious or to convey the political context or humorous absurdity of an event but not necessarily to reflect negatively on the person. A caricaturist’s legal position, but not a photographer’s (who is making greater claims for reality)
    Private and public spaces :
    Evidently, the privacy of private spaces does not transfer to public spaces. It is OK in my mind to photograph in the latter, but not without considering the consequences of our images. A public space has its private events or visually demeaning situations and the consequences of photographing them should I believe be considered not lightly by the photographer.
    Crossing lines :
    Ethics and taste seem to me to be often confused. Taste is personal, but also reflects cultural values or experience. Taste is to leave on or turn off the TV, or switch to another program, when scenes of easy violence or demeaning sex, or esoteric art or literature, or other scenes we wish not to view are presented or about to be. Ethics have more to do with the reasons the director of the program has produced, or perhaps should not have produced, those scenes. Crossing lines can occur when he may be contravening a society ethic, or in our case when you know a photographic situation is not ethically palatable, irrespective of questions of taste, but you cross the line anyway. If the reason is sincere and constructive and related to an ethical or important social message, it may well be OK (as in some art) to cross the line.
  42. For the philosophers who may have trouble with my logic and values, herewith a commentary on the way engineers consider life:
    To the optimist, the glass is half full.
    To the pessimist, the glass is half empty.
    To the engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.
  43. And many just pick it up and drink! ;)))
  44. "... the glass is twice as big ..."
    "... just pick it up and drink!"
    = [a short while later] ... Niagara Falls.
  45. . . . right through the looking glass . . .
  46. Good spontaneous responses, but my error in adding slightly self-depracating humour at the end of the post, or maybe the philosophical discussion has run its course?
  47. Arthur -" The lack of a collective photographer’s deontology (except perhaps in the realm of scientific or journalistic photography) leads to some obfuscation of the matter."
    Which to me seems like a good thing. One of my favorite things to get spontaneity out of models is to give each of them separate, and slightly different instructions. They enter into an unexpected situation and the results are often much better than a heavily scripted one.
    Arthur -The moral responsibility of the photographer ... is unfortunately not written down clearly as a code for the group as a whole.
    Nor should it be. We're creatives. The moment we get a code like that, the best of us will turn it inside out in our work. The day (less than a month after 9/11) the cops announced it was illegal to photograph Chicago bridges, I photographed every single bridge in the Loop. I even got a few cops to pose on the bridges.
    Arthur - "The ethics of Scandinavian photographers will be different in some details from those of a Nigerian, Indonesian or American photographer and will influence the confluence of the two codes."
    Seems ideal to me, allowing for maximum diversity and locality.
    Arthur - "When you happen to be in a position where you can help, I think you are morally obligated to do that."
    Ideally, yes, in reality, things like disaster fatigue displace a lot of feelings.
    Arthur - "At what point does your humanity and ethics become more important than getting the image?"
    I have fast reflexes, but I've rescued people out of crashed cars and not taken a single picture.
    Arthur....The stripperization of American culture can't be complete unless it involves children! What are you, a Commie? :)
    Arthur - "Evidently, the privacy of private spaces does not transfer to public spaces."
    In a public space, people also have responsibilities. The onus doesn't all fall on the photographer. There's another concept that we don't usually consider at all: Private time. a lot of gestures can be considered shared with only one person, but when photographed, they cease to be. Photography is as much (or more) about time than it is about space and the forms that occupy it.
    Fred, thanks for the addendum on the Church's handling of their sexual predators.
  48. "The moral responsibility of the photographer is important, but is unfortunately not written down clearly as a code for the group as a whole." --Arthur
    I would address this for different uses of photography. In terms of my own use of photography, I don't see much difference between photography and other art forms. There are no ethical codes written down for painters or sculptors. I imagine there may be some for architects because of the more practical side of their creations. Architects have to deal with all kinds of regulations. I've mentioned that the relationship between aesthetics and ethics is tricky because, to some extent, art can supersede morality because of its artificiality. But it would be a mistake to think of art as amoral. A lot of art is about moral stuff and a lot of moral questions come up, as we've seen in this thread. Because the artist-photographer, artist-painter, artist-sculptor has so much more freedom than the doctor, lawyer, or building contractor, his moral code will naturally be more individual and less codifiable.
    I make verbal or written agreements in advance of making a portrait even when there is no pay involved. Especially when doing nudes, we discuss parameters and there may or may not be lines that don't get crossed. It's only happened once that a guy I photographed signed a release, did a bunch of nudes, and he then decided he didn't want any of the nudes to be shown to anyone. As disappointed as I was, I honored his request even though he had signed the release. I wouldn't have felt comfortable binding him to such an agreement.
    "At what point does your humanity and ethics become more important than getting the image?" --Arthur
    I can think of a couple of times. It didn't seem like an ethical choice at the time. I wanted to be fully engaged and felt the camera would get between me and the moment, a feeling I don't often have. One was at Denis's special needs community. We were in a group circle and people were sharing about their week. It was quiet, still, and seemed like the right time to set my camera down so I could be present and the click of my camera wouldn't distract others. Soon afterwards, Emily's out-of-town sister arrived and Emily jumped up and shrieked with joy. It would have been quite a shot of Emily in the foreground and her sister walking into the great room in the background. I did wind up getting THIS SHOT once they came together.
    Another time was in Florida, when I took my dad to visit a dear friend of his, my dad in his eighties, Harold over ninety, both widowers. Harold had had throat surgery and couldn't speak, but still had his sense of humor and smile. The two were hand gesturing to each other seemingly in complete understanding. The lighting was amazing and their love was oozing all over the place. I was impotent. I could not reach for my camera.
    The first situation I have no regrets about. I did what I considered the right thing and don't mind not having the shot I might have taken. The second situation I have regrets about. Harold died not long after that day and I do regret not having a picture of the two of them. It would have meant a lot to a lot of people, me included. The first situation didn't have much of a moral tinge to it. The second did for me. I didn't want to exploit an intimate moment between two friends and didn't want to disrupt the sweetness of the mood. I now realize I would have done neither. I wasn't a stranger to either of them and I shouldn't have felt like an onlooker. I was participating in their joy and conversation and the camera could have been an extension of me. From that experience, I learned! At least the picture remains in my head.
    P.S. Luis, this is getting eerie. Once again, we've written simultaneously, so I'm sorry for any redundancy. I haven't read your comment yet. I will now.
  49. "The stripperization of American culture can't be complete unless it involves children! What are you, a Commie?" (Luis)
    Luis, I appreciate your other comments, but on this one, you've completely lost me. "Stripperization"? "Commie" (why invoke the former soviet social system)? Perhaps you can enlighten me as to what you are attempting to say and what part of my comments it possibly refers to.
  50. Arthur, "stripperization" refers to the sexualization of everything in the US, including children. We now have "sexy" lingerie for sub-10 yr old girls. The "commie" comment was in jest, meaning the stripperization is part of capitalism, and to offer resistance is tantamount to treason.
  51. Fred,
    My questions were somewhat rhetorical, but I do appreciate how you feel about them. Your photo, even after the moment of meeting of Denis and his sister, and the complicity of the two, is of high quality. It has presence and meaning, which is what I also feel is most important. As for the hospital scene, and without of course the advantage of being there to appreciate it fully, I feel you did very much the right thing. The moment was highly special to those involved and you respected that. You let it flow and the importance of it was not obstructed by a camera motor whir or mirrror slap. Yes, it would have been nice to have an almost imperceptible Cartier-Bresson record of the moment, but that was obviously not possible with your supposed DSLR equipment and you knew it. But further to that, I think it was much much better to have the dignity of the moment unspoiled for those involved, and a fine memory which is equal to any personal photo.
  52. Luis,
    Thanks for the cultural precision (I feel more American now). It is sad that the free enterprise system has many honest dealers and thinkers who are in complete disagreement with six year old female sexualisation yet also those ready to find that practice "ethically acceptable" and reject the opinions of all who are not in agreement with them. Where or how did such divergence in ethics originate?
  53. Arthur, unfortunately, ethics often cease where profits begin.
  54. Fred,
    I enjoyed your two stories; I think many of us have experienced similar situations.
    BUT ... I don't think the ethics of not shooting was particurly about photography. I think it was about not disturbing something that needed not to be disturbed. You would not have talked on your cell-phone or done the cha-cha or stood on your head, either. It would have been just as wrong to point a film-less (memory card-less) camera without shooting or even to go through the motions with no camera at all. On the other hand, if you could have some sort of magical tiny unobtrusive head-cam hidden in your hat, I think you might have been perfectly happy to photograph the two situations. In other words, it wasn't making of photographs but the distracting activity (of any kind) that was wrong in those situations. Photographing is part of the guilty disturbing-activity set, but it is only one of many such types of behavior.
    [The following (below) is unrelated to my comment above.]
    This morning, I've thinking about whether the following idea holds up against objections:
    It is unethical (not just stupid) to photograph things about which you have no judgement/feelings. A photograph is a documentation; a (point of) view that propogates (possible) meanings. If I photograph what appears to be a nice man and I show him as a nice man -- and he turns out to be Pol Pot or your favorite really bad person, I have generated something that is, if not a lie, then at least an obfuscation.
    If I photograph a mechanical device without knowing whether it is a weapon or a solar-power generator, I am derelict in my duty, in my responsibility at some minimal level ("this is ...") that I think I assume by taking up a camera and making pictures.
    A person who knows about hunting can photograph it in an accurately communicative way -- either pro or con -- but only if/when he knows enough about the activity to have reached a reasonably well-informed judgement (as Matt has done in his description at the top of this thread).
    Generating misinformation under the excuse of ignorance is not just stupid or lazy. I think it crosses into ethics (is unethical). But I'm still thinking about it ...
  55. Arthur P:
    “When you happen to be in a position where you can help, I think you are morally
    obligated to do that. The judgement of where and how is perhaps not always
    clear, but at what point do you decide to stow the camera and help? At what
    point does your humanity and ethics become more important than getting the
    I absolutely agree with the first sentence; and the answer to the question in the last is (for me, personally) "always".

    Answering the second sentence is much harder.

    For example, faced (in the late 70s and early 80s) with similar conditions and circumstances to those which depressed Kevin Carter, it seemed self evident that I should stow the camera and help. But ... when I did so, I often found that I was just getting in the way of those (medically, nutritionally, or otherwise trained) who could deliver the same help much more effectively.
    Carrying water or bandages so that an aid worker could deploy her/his own skills without distraction was OK; but anything more was simply a nuisance which harmed those I wanted to help.
    The help which was required of me, to justify my occupying space and consuming resources, was that I take the photograph so that someone could use it to communicate the need for more outside support of the help which those with the necessary expertise were delivering; if I didn't do that, I could help most effectively by just going away.

    Once I accepted the reality of my actual value, I photographed when asked and carried bedpans when asked. This isn't, of course, the way to be a great photographer... :)

    The more real choice, in practice, was whether to take and/or pass out a photograph or not. Do I respect the dying person's strong personal and cultural wish NOT to be photographed, or "use" them for (what I or the aid organisation see as) the greater good?
  56. Julie H:
    I have much sympathy for your devil's advocate. I agree with almost all of what s/he has to say, with only a few small caveats.
    One of the caveats concerns this:
    “Shooting the disadvantaged not only shows their shame, it shows yours. I think viewers of such pictures don't like them because of *both* shames and possibly even more so the shame of the photographer because it shames them too.”​
    It seems to me that there is only one shame here, not two. There is no shame to being disadvantaged; the shame attaches entirely to those who view disadvantage and choose to do (not "do"; "choose to do", as with the photographer addressed by your devil) nothing.
    Agreeing with you(r devil), sadly, doesn't leave me in a very good light. I eventually resolved my ethical dilemma by walking away from it and taking my camera with me ... a functional equivalent, I suppose, of Carter's suicide (Mike Dixon is right in his notes on the larger view of that suicide, which only emphasises the ethical strain behind it) but without the courage to follow through ... which makes the shame firmly my own. But your devil is, in all material ways, still (IMO) right.
  57. Julie pondered: "It is unethical (not just stupid) to photograph things about which you have no judgement/feelings. A photograph is a documentation; a (point of) view that propogates (possible) meanings.
    So strict! What about exploration? In photography, it's always this, not that. Something (and it can be ridiculously banal) is attracting even the most apparently mindless photographer to whatever ends up in the frame. Sometimes one is chasing tenuous, almost non-existent hoodoos.
    JH- " If I photograph what appears to be a nice man and I show him as a nice man -- and he turns out to be Pol Pot or your favorite really bad person, I have generated something that is, if not a lie, then at least an obfuscation."
    It is neither lie nor obfuscation, simply another, legitimate, aspect of a man at a particular moment, from a particular viewpoint, from a particular observer.
    My mental picture of Dr. Goebbels is the death-ray stare of consuming hatred expertly photographed by Eisenstadt. However, it is incomplete. No single photograph, no matter who the photographer is, can encapsulate a person or an entire life. It can be a synopsis, symbolic, or an insightful skim of its salient aspects. I want a picture of Dr. G as a young boy, a teenager full of dreams and aspirations, on his wedding day (was he married?), holding his first-born, engaged in heinous acts, etc. None of them are misinformation. Even the propaganda portraits serve to tell us a lot about the times and the image they desired to project.
    [Imagine if everyone applied Julie's ethic to having children (never minding that most of us are "oops" babies). Will it be a Jesus, Hitler, Homer Simpson, or....a photographer?]
    JH - "If I photograph a mechanical device without knowing whether it is a weapon or a solar-power generator, I am derelict in my duty, in my responsibility at some minimal level ("this is ...") that I think I assume by taking up a camera and making pictures."
    So if you see a UFO, since you have no idea what it is, you don't pick up your camera?
    JH - "A person who knows about hunting can photograph it in an accurately communicative way -- either pro or con -- but only if/when he knows enough about the activity to have reached a reasonably well-informed judgement (as Matt has done in his description at the top of this thread)."
    A person who's never been hunting but empathizes and gets absorbed in what's going on might do a perfectly good series on hunting. There are nuances a hunter may bring to the pictures, but also there are things that participants are desensitized to, precisely by their experiences.
    JH put down the trident & cracked the whip thusly -"Generating misinformation under the excuse of ignorance is not just stupid or lazy. I think it crosses into ethics (is unethical). But I'm still thinking about it ..."
    Unethical, ignorant, stupid and lazy? Can I get that on stone tablets? :)
  58. "It is unethical (not just stupid) to photograph things about which you have no judgement/feelings. A photograph is a documentation; a (point of) view that propogates (possible) meanings. If I photograph what appears to be a nice man and I show him as a nice man -- and he turns out to be Pol Pot or your favorite really bad person, I have generated something that is, if not a lie, then at least an obfuscation.
    If I photograph a mechanical device without knowing whether it is a weapon or a solar-power generator, I am derelict in my duty, in my responsibility at some minimal level ("this is ...") that I think I assume by taking up a camera and making pictures." (Julie)
    Julie: I see a conflict in your first statement. Yes, if you have no feelings or judgement about what you are photographing, the result will be ruled by chance. It will be a fine photograph by chance and not by planning (as a result of judgement/feelings), which may happen occasionally, but it will probably not result in very much if you are not involved in the making of the image. Having said that, I believe what you are in fact saying is that you are exercising an artistic approach in making the photograph, but the object (persons, animals or things) is not inciting any particular feelings from you other than the abstract impression of composition, texture, form, etc. I see neither situation as being particulaly unethical. What is unethical is to do something that is against your code of values; you cannot be blamed or have remorse for going against that code if you are not able to have a judgement or feeling about the object photographed.
    I think the mechanical device question is even less tied to that of an ethical question. There may be some slippage in your first example, between ethical and unethical (although I personally don't see much), but photographing a mechanical object is usually done because we are intrigued about its form or other pictorial qualities. If you are unaware of its relationship to other mechanical objects and to humanity you are not crossing over from ethical behaviour to unethical. It is a non-issue.
    On the other hand, when you are aware of the relationship betwen the object and its use it is a wholly different matter. The entrance or interior of a concentration camp in Poland, the apparel of an SS trooper, remnants of those killed in a massacre in Rwanda, objects left on the road after a fatal car accident, are but a few of the scenes that I would have trouble reconciling with the creation of a photograph, unless I had researched it thoroughly (when possible) and was completely sure of the message my photographs might present. Even in the unlikely case that my intent was not related to what the objects mean, their symbolism, but somehow only artistic (in the sense of the visional indications presented by the image), I would decide to look elsewhere, realising the great chance of misrepresenting the objects.
  59. Luis and Arthur,
    You are both right and in very helpful ways. I still feel like there's a kernel of truth in what I posted but I can't seem to sort it out of all the obvious exceptions. Some sort of involuntary-man-slaughter-ish misbehavior. Not up there with premeditated murder but not entirely innocent either.
    A slight variation if I can link to an external post (one on my blog) is tourist photography. In the linked post, which shows elderly American women (and a man) photographing African toddlers, I end up thinking that the affection and goodwill of the tourists makes it okay for them to photograph what they really know nothing about. Do you agree?
    I did a follow-up on a different kind of photography of African children by Americans here:
  60. ". . . if you could have some sort of magical tiny unobtrusive head-cam hidden in your hat, I think you might have been perfectly happy to photograph the two situations." --Julie
    , my ethics go beyond what I can get away with. Though I don't believe in a god or gods, I do believe in some sort of greater picture. No, you've judged me wrong. From a standpoint of ethics, I generally won't do in secret or silently what I wouldn't do up front. The disturbing would take place on a different plane from the click of the shutter, the snap of the mirror, and the gesture of my arm.
    Also remember that my not photographing wasn't just about the noise or about not disturbing others. It was about my wanting to be present and not wanting something between me and the moment. That something doesn't have to be my 30D with its big zoom lens. It's about my consciousness and my attention.
    Had I photographed those two events, I would have had the reminders of those events in the form of photographs. Those photographs would be inescapable. I said above that I and others would love to have the picture of Harold and my dad. Others might never know but I always would. I would love to have the picture I could have taken, but I wouldn't love to have the picture I wasn't able to take. Only if I had felt cleanly about taking it at the time would I want the photo as a remembrance. Having not felt cleanly about it, the photograph would act more as a reminder of my own distraction than anything else.
    This story doesn't have near the emotion for me that the other two do: I no longer show THIS photo. (I keep it in a hidden folder.) I didn't "disturb" the subject. He never knew his picture was taken. It's the kind of photo I was taking early on in my days of shooting seriously. I'll always have a fondness for the photo but it will always bother me too, as a reminder of the kind of stealth shooting I used to do. I was probably positioned behind a tree on the sidewalk when I took this. I'd come away from a day of shooting feeling as if I'd violated others (somewhat sublimated feelings, but genuine nevertheless) and also feeling quite isolated myself, as if I was the onlooker watching and crouching while everyone else was participating. The guy never knew what hit him, but something happened that involved him. He doesn't have to know or even have to suffer consciously from my actions. The event is still out there in the universe. I've grown, and shoot differently now. I have a fondness for it but don't think it's a good photo. All that was lacking for me in the shooting of it, I believe, shows in the photo itself. It's a looking at or even a looking away, not a seeing.
  61. Julie H on a linked post:
    “...elderly American women (and a man) photographing African toddlers ... the affection and goodwill of the tourists makes it okay for them to photograph what they really know nothing about. Do you agree?”
    I've thought a lot about that post, since you first put it up.
    As I said at the time, the fact that they are American is irrelevant ... the fact that they are outsiders may or may not be.
    My current feeling are ... I see nothing inherently ethical or unethical about them taking photographs. As Luis G says, photography is often (in my case, at least, usually) exploration of something wholly or partially unknown. The ethical aspect arises within each of those tourists, not in the third party observer. I have to admit that this particular third party observer feels a sense of outrage and anger ... but that's my problem, my shortcoming, not theirs, and for me to deal with; I can't defend it.
    [Somebody, a long way above this, said that they will never pay for taking such a photograph. Oh yes: Leslie Cheung. I understand and respect his ethical viewpoint on that, but can't entirely share it in these circumstances − whichever way I decide, my wider "human" ethical assessment overrides any "photographic" one.]
    If I have an defensible ethical question about what those tourists in your are doing, it is to do with objectivisation of human individuals ... something which happens everywhere but is particularly promoted by tourism (not just American tourism in Africa; any tourism anywhere − British tourism in the US, for example, or Ethiopian tourism in Europe or the US, or any tourism at all; tourism almost is objectivisation of the toured by the tourer). Photography always has a tendency to objectify, and in tourism sees this aspect come very prominently to the fore.
  62. Felix,
    Thanks and I think I agree with you. I seem to want to agree with everybody this morning but I really DO agree. I'm wobbling back and forth (I like wobbling back and forth). Thanks for persisting in filling out and explaining your point(s) of view.
    [Am still digesting the previous posts including Fred's most recent -- which I also agree with :) ]
  63. Julie... to make your wobbling worse, a thought that just popped up in my head reading Luis' answer on your older pondering, specifically on an accidental picture that would show Pol Pot as a normal, possibly attractive, human being.
    When the movie 'Der Untergang' was released there were people angry that Hitler was being displayed as a relatively normal human being. They felt he should be shown as the monster he was. Personally (and I think most viewers) found the 'human touch' more frightening. A normal human and a monster at the same time... What does that say about us? Doesn't that send a much stronger and deeper message?
    So, yes, a picture that would show Stalin as a loving grandfather, wouldn't that make a stronger picture? None of us is thát far away from being like any of those types - circumstance, oppurtunity and situation. A bad choice is easily made.
    (No, I do not believe humankind is bad by default, though it may seem so by now)
    Thanks for the shared experiences. I find real world choices and decisions made help a lot in understanding the real issues in ethics.
    One sentence that intrigues me: Photography always has a tendency to objectify.
    In what sense? Isn't that a (potentially wrong) assumption of the viewer?
    Fred, while I think the discussion is absolutely fine, partially I want to rewind to your topic start. Just to be sure I understand properly: adhering to certain ethics is ultimately a personal choice, but do you see/search for a photography-wide ethical viewpoint, or the personal 'boundaries' of persons? Aren't the last just moral values, and more a question "how far are you willing to go to get a photo"?
    (sorry if this sounds deconstructive/nullifying, it's not meant as such - it's more to ensure I'm not missing a point here)
  64. The part that gets to me regarding the tourists photographing the rickety kids for me is that they're all taking the same picture. Not one kneels down, or adopts a different perspective, nothing. Monkey see, monkey do. It's as if the tourists are mass-produced clones.
  65. Wouter, I don't take your questions as nullifying in any way. I have personal boundaries and personal ethical boundaries. My personal boundaries are that I don't climb mountains to get shots, I don't dive to do underwater photography (because I'm chicken, not because I don't like them), I avoid shots of sunsets at the beach. There's nothing ethical about those decisions and they could change as I do.
    I've described my own ethical boundaries in several stories. Those are not about just how far I will go. They are about my ethics and my ethics regarding making photographs.
    As for a photography-wide ethical viewpoint, I'm not trying to establish one but my original question left open the door for those who may. I was curious whether people have personal ethical approaches to their photographs and whether they see a more community-wide standard.
    Despite the fact that I'm not comfortable with determining the ethics of others when it comes to photographing, I do make my own judgments on what or how others shoot as the cases arise. I mostly keep them to myself.
    If someone commits what society considers an unethical act worthy of being called a crime in the process of making a photo, I would likely judge that severely and punish the person accordingly. I'd punish people who abuse children by photographing them or someone committing a robbery in the process of photographing. Taking a picture of a robbery, of course, would likely be something different.
    [Warning: some may be offended by these examples.] I give a lot of leeway and have to have a lot of information before I jump to ethical conclusions about photographs. Many judge Jock Sturges and Nan Goldin harshly for these photos. I don't. I respect their work and like much of it (not all of it). I accept that it could be seen as challenging morés, but in these cases I think that's a good thing. I've read a fair amount about both photographers and how they approach their shoots and I have no problem with their methods or their results, though they do touch various nerves in me as well as others.
    I judge harshly the Bush Administration for not allowing photos of caskets returning from war. I appreciate Obama's reversal of that form of censorship and denial. He's made it contingent on a given family's consent, which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, the family deserves the utmost privacy and respect. On the other hand, a greater good might be served even if the family's consent couldn't be obtained. There would be compelling arguments on both sides here.
    Pretty much any rule of thumb I could think of will have exceptions and might change as my own situation, needs, and opportunities change. Though I do have a predilection against photographing homeless people, for example, I recognize many significant photos of homeless people and, given the right circumstances and access, I could certainly see myself photographing them. So even my generally applied ethics to myself or to others are rarely if ever universalized or immortalized.
  66. Understand - for me, I just did/do not make the distinction between the personal boundaries and personal ethical boundaries. They're all pictures I just cannot make in practise. Where I do make the distinction, I avoid the use of the word 'ethics', but rather go with judgement, moral values... a bit more flexible and personal terms (at least in my view) - that sparked the question. I guess we interpret the word 'ethics' different, while being mostly in agreement on what has been said.
    A note on the photography wide ethics. A nature organisation tried to introduce a guideline for nature photographers in the Netherlands. Given the explosive rise in interest, many nature areas were getting damaged by the increased hordes of photographers. The suggested rules were tear-jerking obvious (respect nature, leave animals alone, do not damage plants/trees/animals to get your photo etc.). In my view, it didn't help and will not help. Those who understand those guidelines, already knew. Those who don't either will not learn, or will not get exposed to the publication since it was mainly presented in media circling around nature-lovers.... A good initiative, but a priest preaching a church full of believers.
  67. Fred-
    People are often shocked by nudity. The context is important, not the fact of nudity. Some are shocked at the sight of a baby upon delivery, covered in fluid and attached still by an umbilical cord. I find that amazing. These are however questions of taste and not ethics, in my mind. Ethics comes into it in regard to the context of the image (like Sturges' mother and child hanging laundry which I think many would accept as normal) if our values dictate that until children are old enough to understand context and moral values and guidelines (ethics) it is best not to confront them with nudity images or those of violence. Personal ethics varies and amongst cultures as well, of course. Bathing suits are not ethical in Saudi Arabia, but are so in the western world. Miltary caskets from Afghanistan are shown in Canada only if the family does not deny that otherwise (after the sacrifice of their child, I believe that it is both ethical and is reasonable to accept that request).
    The question of ethics, like the question of what one intends to do with one's life, are society influenced but ultimately between the person and his or her conscience. I have respect for others whose ethics may be somewhat different from mine and even more respect for those who are consistent in their application, whatever the exact nature of those ethics may be.
    By the way, some of the most meaningful images of Sturges were taken with an 8x10 camera in Irish schools, some 5 or 10 years ago. He has a great complicity with young people. I wish I could access them easily, but if you are interested in his work I am sure Irish and Jock Sturges might reveal them.
  68. Arthur, thanks. I've seen quite a bit of Jock's work over the years, both in person and in books.
    On the issues you just addressed, I mostly disagree. I don't, and I don't think most people who react, see these examples as matters of taste. Many who find them morally objectionable would and have stated that the Sturges photos are well done and "beautiful." They are well within most people's level of taste. Most people object to them on ethical grounds. Either they think nudity is wrong altogether or they think photographing a nude child (other, perhaps, than in a bubble bath) is wrong, not distasteful. In reading many articles on reactions to Goldin's photo, it was not about liking the photo, the colors, the composition, etc. It was about a young girl's vagina staring the viewer in the face while she was staring up between the legs of a dancing partner clad in panties. Though I don't find these photos unethical, it is hard for me to imagine divorcing them from significant ethical considerations and limiting the considerations to ones of taste. Limiting it to taste would make it much lesser art in my eyes. I think dealing with the ethics involved would be the deeper opportunity for both artist and viewer.
    Though in my opinion many ethical questions are up to us as individuals, many are definitely not ultimately between the person and his or her conscience. As a member of a civilized society, I may very well be affected by someone's actions (even when they aren't specifically or primarily directed at me) and I and others have every right to insist upon certain behaviors, the perpetrator's conscience be damned. If you are abusing a child, let's say you're a priest, and you think you're holy enough to be above the laws and morals that most people adhere to, and so your conscience allows you to perform these vile acts and then to cover them up and help others cover them up, I have a right and an obligation to stop you, regardless of whether you're consistent in your thinking and regardless of what cultural excuse you provide.
    Yes. There are many actions that are perceived differently in different cultures and it's important to be mindful and respectful of those differences, depending on the acts. But I don't have to respect someone's actions because their culture tells them it's OK. And I can work to stop those actions. Those whose culture tells them it's OK to beat women into subservience or to keep their faces hidden or to enslave children are wrong. There may not be much I can or would do about it, but if I didn't make that judgment, I couldn't live with myself. I understand that others may have a different way of viewing women and children. And I understand they don't see it as wrong. I do. And I'm glad I do. Live and let live carries us to many good places. And it can be taken way too far.
  69. Fred-
    The use of babies and young children in advertising, where their behaviour is induced and artificial to please adults in some facile manner is to me entirely unethical. The child actors are not aware of what they are doing or at least not aware of the reasons and the issues. Some, not me, will consider that simply a matter of taste. They may be the same who are horrified at seeing a new born baby in its admittedlty not prettiest of moments and consider that an unethical photograph. When I mentioned that I think we should act accordingto our own sense of ethics, it is because of the erosion I see in the ethics of the community, not as a question of laissez-faire. The individual action is to support what might be disappearing from community behaviour (I am speaking for myself here and my experience; in a different sense, when homosexualism was not accepted by the society, many of us refused that so-called ethical stance of non-homosexual persons - that was going against a prevailing ethic, but as history shows now, fully justified; there are many examples where personal ethic does not follow exactly that of one's society).
    The way politicians are treated in the US in TV campaign negative advertising is often to my mind highly unethical and unfortunately beginning to creep into Canada, primarily by our national conservative party. It is being fought strongly by many here, as it represents an unethical manner of discussing your opponent. That may be the ethical reaction of our small and relatively unimportant society, but it is one I can readily embrace. When I see corruption in our government (a present controversy is playing out between the public and the apparent collusion between government and big trade unions in regard to hiring at major hydro-electric sites) I subscribe entirely to the ethics of proper business conduct and fairness.
    The point that for me is important is the apparent conundrum between taste and ethics, not in everyday life where I see the issues as being more clearcut, but in art and photography, where the independence of the artist sometimes works negatively to ignore ethical issues. In Lacking a formal deontology, that is where I see things as being more centered on the individual response in determining what is or is not ethical. As I think I mentioned earlier, my feelings are that one has to apply one's general ethical codes and the ethical codes of one's society (if one accepts them) as a basis for developing one related to photography. The one related to photography, in the acknowledged absence of a deontology for that activity (which is OK by me, as independence of artistic action is important, but still requires justification when made public), is what each person and each person's moral values will dictate, complemented by the overall ethical values. The result is not a laissez-faire approach, but one of constructing the guidelines for one's actions. Letting taste replace ethics is not palatable in my opinion, and I believe we agree on that point.
  70. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    I used to live near the Bowery and saw school children being toured through with "I Give a Damn" buttons on and shocked and horrified looks on their faces. The poor, as one poor person said to the Charlotte City Council, are jobs for the middle class, black and white. If you've gone down to the Bowery to look, for whatever reason, you might as well shoot photographs, but those photographs are about the photographer, not the Bowery (I don't remember seeing any shots of a bum confronting an artist, but that particular interaction was fairly common as the artists took over the space).
    What I object to about Goldin is that the scenes are contrived and aimed at the middle class sentimentalists no less than the organizers of the bus loads of middle class children thought that seeing the Bowery would be meaningful to the children (well, yeah, they became the most conservative kids ever in US history). There's a nasty sort of sensationalism to them, and in that, they're not far removed from Andrew Wyeth's whorish titles that appealed to the sentimentality of his buyers. They're not about the photograph or the painting; they're about the setting and the complexities of marketing and sentimentalities of various kinds.
    I'm finding that I don't want to take pictures that play with fashionable morbidness, or write fiction that plays with that. I think the world is light and darkness, and the light isn't always as sentimental as the dark, though light-drive sentimentality is more obvious than the dark driven sentimentality (when it's about your feelings rather than the esthetic pleasure of the piece).
    I have things I won't photograph: people who are falling while climbing, Amish, anyone who really doesn't want to be photographed (unless they piss me off by trying to tell me what I should be photographing instead of them).
    I have kinds of photographs I think it's wrong to do too many of -- either the sentimentality of the dark or light, when the photograph is a trigger for self-regard rather than sublimation of ego, the forgetting of self in the work, either as the performer or as the audience. The sentimentality of the light is the happy snaps. The sentimentality of the dark is no longer obvious tear jerkers these days.
    My morals with art are based on what I believe about art. And I tend to agree with Faulkner that a good novel is worth any number of grandmothers, but we're in an age reeking of various forms of sentimentality, not all of which are limited to happy snaps, and Faulkner, after Satorius provided a sentimental and sensationalized view of the South for primarily Northern consumers.
    Julie, I find the first African photograph (two children with all the white photographers) horrifying and nasty, even more than I found people who came to my rural county and skipped by twelve brick ranch houses to photograph some colorfully shabby wooden house with peeling paint. I'm sure all of them could have found that closer to home (I've been thinking of photographing a shabby house near Middleburg, but in some ways, it's too obvious even there).
    If a photograph needs a text to explain it, chances are good that it's dabbling in some form of sentimentality (cultivating the self-image of the viewer rather than freeing the viewer from self for a moment).
  71. Rebecca, I'd give up all of Faulkner's novels and then some for one day with my grandmother.
    If that makes me sentimental, then lay it on me. I'll bathe in it.
    I love sentimentality when it's well done.
    Movie: It's a Wonderful Life.
    Song: Sentimental Journey.
    Photograph: V-J Day in Times Square.
    Many of Tchaikovsky's works were denigrated as sentimental. Glad we got over the denigrating. They're still sentimental . . . and wonderful.
    Cheap sentimentality is one thing. Grandmothers and Tchaikovsky are another. I guess even Faulkner could be an ass . . . or maybe he just had a really nasty grandma.
  72. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Grandmothers die anyway, not that Faulkner wasn't a bit of a jerk.
    Sentimentality is always about self-back-patting. It means the work isn't engaging enough to keep you from doing that. I see <i>V-J Day in Time Square</i> differently than men do, I suspect. I don't think I've ever seen <i>It's a Wonderful Life</i>.
    I spent Easter photographing a couple and their dogs for gas money, food, and $200, and the photos are probably sentimental enough.
    When my siblings praise my mom, they're living up to public standards about how people should act toward their mothers and the dead. None of us actually cried at her memorial service or at the interment of some of her ashes later. I felt sorry for her (her childhood was awful), but she never knew I existed in any real sort of way, and I don't think I ever had a meaningful adult conversation with her (I have had those with my father).
    It's that "If I like/think/do this, I'm a good person" that is problematic. Art isn't about morals intrinsically (<i>Triumph of the Will</i> and <i>The Conformist</i> both are excellent, but they don't share the same moral universe at all). As a person, I have morals, but not as an artist. The guy commenting that writers were all jerks may have been on to something. Art is orthogonal to being a nice person.
    Faulkner's daughter said he started being a nice person when he quit writing.
  73. Rebecca says that "art is orthogonal to being a nice person" ... I prefer the form I used earlier, "art is amoral".
    The trade off between good novels and grandmothers is an example. I am absolutely with Fred: any number of great novels do not justify the selling of one grandmother, mine or anyone else's. However, it's a grim fact that most of what is generally lauded as "great art" is produced by people who are less than great human beings – because the nice people are distracted more often by human calls than those who are single minded enough to stick with the call of art. In other words, there is a positive correlation (but no necessary deterministic linkage) between art and being a less than nice person.
    I dislike sentimentality, but not as a primary judgement ... my dislike is really for lack of honesty. The two things too often arrive together, once again correlated but not deterministically linked.
    To Wouter's question about photography's tendency to objectify: having made the statement on the wing, I'm now thinking through a reply and will return with (I hope) something coherent! :)
  74. Hey, that's Liber Novus in that Amy and Ursa pic, I wouldn't have dared to keep a doggie so close to it, what if the dog smells and starts licking one of the pages suddenly...the thought alone makes me shiver.
  75. Rebecca - "It's that "If I like/think/do this, I'm a good person" that is problematic."
    It's more complicated than that. It's about identity and cultivating oneself. There's things I want and don't want to be, and it goes well beyond the elementally simple "good person".
    RB- "In other words, there is a positive correlation (but no necessary deterministic linkage) between art and being a less than nice person." and " Art is orthogonal to being a nice person."
    It's not just art, it's any endeavor where the practitioner pushes him/herself to the limit. I mean from mothers obsessed with their precious snowflakes, to Einstein. Everything and everyone around them suffers. The first thing the Buddha did when embarking on the search for Enlightenment was to ditch his new family. J.C. tells the young man who wants to follow him to leave his family behind. Did that make them non 'nice guys' ?
    Without obsession and creativity, a lot of things don't happen.
    Art has no intrinsic ethics (and in my view, it shouldn't), but the individuals who make it do.
    As long as we're throwing low sparks strutting on the dark side, there's the (possibly deterministic) link between mental illness and creativity (note I did not say 'art'). No, not outright psychosis, but a little headway in that spectrum seems to go with the territory. It, too, is not often interpreted as "nice".
    Ps. I love the story of Faulkner's stint as a mailman.
  76. If you could appear without prior history as an adult in our society (or rather in one of our western or eastern societies), had the luck of minimal education for art and photography, little or no knowledge of the western or eastern intellectual traditions, only minimal knowledge of the philosphical questions and solutions of the early (say, Greek) philosophers, no upbringing by parents or school, how would you approach the question of ethic in your practice of photography or painting?
    Artists are not alone as individuals in being influenced by their background and society. Perhaps some become grumpy or nasty because they have that specific burden of influence that can be counter-productive to their mental approach and to their art. Whether we like it or not, our tendency is to look over our shoulders at what society or some part of it declares as ethics.
    Seeing out of our social clothing is harder then seeing within. Seeing out is an exploration of the unknown. Ethics can sometimes constrain that vision, whereby the seeing out bears some stamp of the known or the correct or the accepted.
    A good scientist friend born in the East was completely singular in his search to explain the unknown. He flirted quite successfully with social existence and friends, presenting a very charming side, but never in a very determined way. Those interludes were short compared to his long solitary creative pushes, most of which gained him international reputation in his field. He was then difficult and aggressive with those outside his realm of interest. Upon retirement, his art (creative science) became a closed book, which that lasted only a month or two. He always found somethinh new to question or discover, but later he would mumble that there wasn't anything more he could do and, devoid of experimental facilities, progressed more and more into the hypothetical and mathematical anlyses. I saw him some months before his suicide and felt the great gulf that existed between his social self (interactivity with others) and the scientific (artistic) side. I don't think he would have succeeded in his researches if he was too tied to society, to ethics and to the conditioned human state.
    I mention this in support of a postulate that geat art and great science may require a divorce from cultural and ethical values. Those of us involved in lesser art no doubt sacrifice less in maintaining society values. Do I hear pencils being sharpened?
  77. Great art and science may require a rejection of convention, even the flouting of it, but I don't see that as a divorce from values. Both are often steeped in values, even as they question norms and advance the dialogue. (Scientific method itself is a value.)
    Jock Sturges was not divorced from values because his photographs defied some of society's conventions about public displays of child nudity. He was mired in ethics, even in what could have been perceived as his defiance. His work would have been less interesting if young girls weren't involved and that's not because I like to look at little naked girls. It's because I'm intrigued by things I've rarely seen in art photographs. In my eyes, he wasn't doing anything "wrong," but wrongness (and the questioning of it) is part of his body of work. Goya might have chosen to paint pretty pictures and probably could have made nice landscapes. He felt the ethical call to pursue a vision with social and political, ethical, inferences and connotations. Michael Curtiz isn't divorced from putting his audiences through some very basic questions of ethics even while many are being entertained. To come away from Casablanca with only a gauzy memory of Ingrid Bergman's face or the famous lines is to miss the art, the beauty in the human dilemmas faced. The relationship of the priest and the gangster in Angels with Dirty Faces (Pat O'Brien, James Cagney) only works because they're friends from a similar background who've taken different paths. It is ethics that makes the final epiphany and binds them together beyond the worlds they lived in.
    (Sure, all this has a sentimental Hollywood cover but it gives a lot of people access. To be effective, not all ethics has to come in the guise of down 'n dirty class struggles or rejection of the evil middle class. That stuff can start feeling like as much of a pose or adopted facade as even the sappiest Walt Disney production.)
    Medical scientists sit on hospital ethics boards along with philosophers and bureaucrats because they know their discipline is not divorced from ethics.
  78. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Phylo, Ursa has probably inhaled most of the books in the library. She's one very strange bitch.
    Others: I don't think all artists are creeps -- and few are completely as psychotic as say, bad psychiatrists. John Keats appeared to have been quite sane and Oscar Wilde had many friends who commented on his kindness to people in distress (one wonderful story about his comforting a widow and getting her engaged in life again after her husband died) His surviving grandson is involved in gay rights work suggesting that he left very good memories in his sons.
    It's orthogonal. The sentimentality of the day is that people who are great artists can be jerks. Some jerks think they are great artists and aren't. The best writer I know personally is a gentleman, but comes out of a different community than most of us (educated black professionals).
    We have politics, morals as human beings. Art is about transcending the temporary conditions of our daily lives.
    The sentimentality of the under-educated is massive happiness; the sentimentality of the educated is seeing only the darkness, taking oneself too seriously.
    I think some people are difficult whatever their professions -- and that difficulty rarely makes for true greatness, with some exceptions. Ginsberg was very social in middle age. The craziest and most difficult people who are attracted to the arts as a place where they can get away with being crazy tend to be not all that impressive in their work -- with some exceptions.
    It's a sentimentality of our day that artists and scientists are off the main sequence. It's often really not useful to people in the arts. Jim Carroll wasn't particularly productive; Patti Smith, who was fundamentally a nicer person, is. Flaubert's "live like the bourgeois" and save the wildness for the creations isn't bad advice. Shakespeare was very evidently more socially skillful and better liked than Christopher Marlowe and had his gentlemen friends put pressure on Greene's publisher to retract Greene's slurs about Shakespeare. Marlowe went around London ranting and the publisher's apology to Shakespeare said he wasn't the least bit sad about what Greene said about Marlowe.
    The trouble with the prevailing sentimentality is that people who have secured tenured positions teaching art often give disastrous encouragement about the value of obsessions and the amorality of art to people whose greater need is models like Keats, Chaucer, Wilde, Yeats, even the middle-aged Ginsberg or Gary Snyder. The ability to be a social creature is part of art, and the absolutely greatest poets were men of their communities and had deep friendships. Whether or not it's part of science, I don't know, but the science folks I've known have been more socially skillful and genuinely willing to help me than the liberal arts professors when I was growing up. The academic artists I knew as a child through graduate school did not make any mark on their fields.
    I don't think anyone can be a great photographer of people without being social, without an understanding of the species and some humor about being part of it. We have some photographers who projected themselves into their human subjects rather than actually saw what was in front of them. And there also the sentimentality about marginal desperation by the non-desperate (a friend in NYC said scratch a poet and you'll find a trust fund -- not that all of those people are self-inflating).
    William Blake was an exception.
    Given this culture, people who stay in the arts do tend to be driven, but it's this culture, not a human requirement for artistic greatness. Shakespeare ran a theatre in partnership with others; Chaucer was a public servant and his wife worked for John of Gaunt's mistress, later wife.
  79. "We have some photographers who projected themselves into their human subjects rather than actually saw what was in front of them." --Rebecca
    Decent photographers can see what's in front of them and still project themselves into their human subjects. That's the dance part of photography. Just seeing without projecting yourself is one way of doing it, and that can be done effectively or vapidly. It can be an escape, just like "transcending the temporary conditions of our daily lives" can be just an escape. I address my temporary daily life a lot in my photos. (All I have is a temporary life. Some believe in more.) Transcendence comes through understanding and acceptance, not just denial or rejection. Empathy, as opposed to dismissiveness, requires a kind of projection. Seeing what's in front of me requires my eyes as well as what's seen. For me, photographic seeing (all seeing) is a relationship.
  80. Arthur -"I mention this in support of a postulate that geat art and great science may require a divorce from cultural and ethical values."
    Greatness simultaneously involves an insightful awareness of, and distancing, if not rejection of the status quo. I also don't see this so much as a divorce from cultural ethical norms as I do the results of extreme individuation (and other things).
    Jock Sturges was not divorced from values, but he ended up divorced, as an expatriate, from his native country.
    Fred - "His [Sturges'] work would have been less interesting if young girls weren't involved..."
    No one is doing that kind of thing currently with little boys. They'd be burned at the stake, specially if they photographed middle or upper little white boys. And I don't know if it would be less interesting.
  81. Luis, I was unclear. I meant that it was interesting because it was little girls as opposed to grown women.
  82. Fred - "Luis, I was unclear. I meant that it was interesting because it was little girls as opposed to grown women."
    Ah, I see. It did seem out of character for Fred.
  83. Luis-
    I presume Jock Sturges, but also James (Joyce), Jean-Pierre (Riopelle), Man Ray, Nancy Huston, and many others have felt it necessary to divorce themselves from their countries, to stand back from cultural values and mores that they question, or sometimes just to breathe other cultural airs or movements. Often a healthy choice.
    Luis, Fred-
    I might have better used the word "separation" rather than "divorce" in my thoughts. I might "divorce" myself from my writing project today or for a few days, which doesn't mean I let it go forever. Just wanted to "dot the i,s" on my use of the word. When Mahler would go back to his little cabin at the foot of the lake to compose, he was divorcing himself from the routine of the house and other activities, temporarily eliminating all they meant, to be able to think without hinderance. His ethical values remained with him. We may accept and embrace our ethical and social values, but nevetheless question them through our work and by standing back from them. That is essentially what I was getting at in my comments.
  84. "Do we owe homeless people something? Do we owe it to our viewer to show them what homelessness is like? "

    Have we been born with an obligation to anyone? Don't our lives belong to ourselves or do we have to take on a moral obligation for others?

    Certainly a well known banker, who recently managed to take 65million out of his bank, managing staff out instead of paying redundancy, would agree with the above. Perhaps ex members of his staff will become some of the beggars we are worried about taking ethical photos of. No doubt our Government will slap his wrist and take away the odd million....

    But i suppose we should be really concerned about the ethics of taking his photo in a public place.....
  85. Nothing wrong with that concern, but it belongs in the Off-Topic forum.
  86. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    For me, photographic seeing (all seeing) is a relationship.​
    I don't have any problem with this. I was thinking specifically of Diane Arbus, whose future suicide seems to me to be in everything she photographed. I don't sense a relationship between her and her subjects, just the projection.
  87. Rebecca, sometimes it turns out that the viewer does the projecting.
    From an article about Arbus: Sontag opposed the lack of beauty in Arbus's work and its failure to make the viewer feel compassionate about Arbus's subjects. Sontag's essay itself has been criticized as "an exercise in aesthetic insensibility" and "exemplary for its shallowness."
    In this case, I agree with the author's assessment of Sontag's view of Arbus. It is the lack of beauty and even a perceived lack of compassion that is so much the point of Arbus's work. A photographer wearing compassion on her sleeve can put a subject in an extremely condescended-to light. "Compassion" can sometimes be more about the need of the photographer and the viewer than the being of the subject. Arbus, more than so many others, allowed her subjects to see the light of day, without filter, without adornment, and without the usual visible hints at or symbols of compassion. I see something liberating and liberated in that. Her subjects seem free. For me, her photographs are only as much a projection of the photographer as any photograph would be. Her photographs are about her ability to receive (not project), and therefore to care for her subjects. It is demanding of the viewer to do the same and I suspect that's why her work is such a turnoff to so many viewers.
    Nel Noddings draws an important distinction between natural caring and ethical caring:
    Noddings distinguishes between acting because "I want" and acting because "I must". When I care for someone because "I want" to care, say I hug a friend who needs hugging in an act of love, Noddings claims that I am engaged in natural caring. When I care for someone because "I must" care, say I hug an acquaintance who needs hugging in spite of my desire to escape that person's pain, according to Noddings, I am engaged in ethical caring.
    I wonder if, in part, Arbus committed suicide because ultimately she couldn't escape the others' (and her own) pain.
  88. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    I think the world of Sontag. I saw the show of newspaper photographs that Arbus curated at MOMA in the 1970s -- she chose the morbid ones. Nan Goldin's drag queen friends also didn't like Arbus's way of photographing them. Arbus at least in some cases manipulated the person she was photographing to get the image she wanted, which wasn't necessarily about the person she was photographing.
    I have compassion for people who get terminal cancer and decide that enough is enough -- a couple of old farmer friends of my uncle did to themselves what they'd do to a suffering animal. In other cases where people weren't just insane, it is "I obliterate all you fuckers."
    Insanity's a non-rational pain, broken brain or self-deception, not something integral to being a live animal working out the problems of surviving.
    My father's girlfriend has a child with Downs Syndrome -- he's far more cheerful than any number of people with normal brains.
    For anyone who has a reasonable income and is in good physical health to dwell on "the pain" is to be as one sided as the people who can't stand unhappy endings.
    Caring that has no chance of being reciprocal is problematic. We prove ourselves superior people by caring for people who are not as dominant as we are. People who are aware of themselves as helpers frequently aren't. It's about them, not the person they think they're helping. If you think about yourself as an ethical caring person, good chance it's about your needs, not the needs of your victim (sometimes what people in pain need to hear is that they are overwhelming others -- having that acknowledged as a reality that the pain is exceptional might be more useful than suffering through a forced hug). People who help just do it, and in a real relationship between peers, that's going to be reciprocal.
    When I was modeling, one of the old realistic figure painters that I worked for said that in the past, painters were basically sane, fairly long lived, and not particularly mad artist types. The rise of the madman/genius bothered him. I think it's a round about way to move arts out of daily life -- either it's massively popular entertainment done by the few who are not most of our neighbors or it's something obscessives do in subcultural settings, again, not most of our neighbors. Most people, being sane and not brought up to be self-indulgent if not necessarily particularly educated, go for the happy snaps.
    I've had a woman be friendly to me and a black woman seamstress working as a receptionist because of how they saw the interaction -- as being nice to the help. When I sold my first s.f., the woman stopped speaking to me. I'd broken her stereotype and her self-congratulations on her ability to relate to the clerical help.
    If you think you're being a caring person, chances are you're being a subtle kind of bully. There's a guy else where who collects broken people except when he can't fix them and then he's quite ruthless about dismissing them.
    Arbus could have committed suicide because she wasn't the bestest photographer ever and knew at some level that she was exploiting people who didn't have the social skills to stand up to her (why I think shooting the rich is far more sporting).
  89. "If you think you're being a caring person, chances are you're being a subtle kind of bully."
    There seems to be a persistent cynicism behind this. Its genuineness is worthy of respect.
    Everyone's pain is their own and they are entitled to it, no matter the degree of pain as judged by another.
    "Arbus at least in some cases manipulated the person she was photographing to get the image she wanted, which wasn't necessarily about the person she was photographing."
    Right, that's where the relationship comes in. It's what photographers sometimes do. It's often about subject and photographer. Photographer's who deny themselves aren't necessarily to be lauded for that act alone.
    "People who help just do it."
    I'm not an advocate of this any more than I am of "people who photograph should just do it and quit talking so much about it." It makes it all too easy.
  90. [Sorry, ran out of time to add to above.]
    "Nan Goldin's drag queen friends also didn't like Arbus's way of photographing them. "
    Some of my subjects don't love the way I photograph them. But they love that I photograph them my way. My subjects' photographic opinions only carry so much weight. (If a subject asked me not to show a photo of them I would honor that request, but not because I deferred to their opinion of the photo. It would be out of respect for their being the subject.) Some drag queens are self-centered, and they can be the first to admit it.
  91. I have a bit of trouble with Goldin stating that "ethical care" is that we feel we "must" give, contrary to "natural care", seemingly independent of ethics by her statement, which is the care we "want" to give. Different ethical considerations may be summoned in one or the other, but I think ethics are certainly involved in both cases. Perhaps she is using the word ethical in some new sort of way that I have not discoverd from a brief encounter with her ideas?
  92. Arthur, Goldin didn't say it. Nel Noddings did. The link I supplied might offer a little more of Noddings's notion of care and ethics. From my own readings of Noddings, I doubt she would deny what you rightly observe, that all care has a relationship to ethics. But many do differentiate, within an ethical environment, between what we want and what we feel a duty to, what we feel we must or cannot help but do. Historically, the very foundation of ethics is a matter of duty, choice, and responsibility. Noddings would certainly recognize a natural predilection to do good or to want good as a good to the world or to another person. But I think there's a significant place, which she is emphasizing, for obligation and duty, recognized by ethical writers from Plato to Kant and beyond.
    Plato believed in a sort of ethical determinism which I've always found fascinating and could be of practical use. He believed that if we Know what is good, we can't help but do it. That we sort of have a built-in "must". Knowledge, for Plato, was so paramount that he believed that if you truly KNOW what is good (and that's Knowledge with a capital K), you will do it. The highest Form of Knowledge guides actions that strictly. So, if you do wrong, it's only out of Ignorance.
    At first blush, this kind of thinking might seem to excuse us from responsibility. We can claim ignorance and thereby escape the consequences of our wrong actions. Not for Plato. The search for Knowledge is demanded of us. Lack of Knowledge is a human failing. He was less interested in retribution and punishment than in educating others in order to lead to the Good. Sometimes I wonder if parts of our justice system shouldn't take a lesson from Plato. Our proclivity to blame and to urge personal responsibility rather than trying to rehabilitate and educate seems to put us on a lower path. The recognition that Ignorance and determined factors like genetics and the kind of nurture we receive may cause a lot of wrong actions might go a long way in stopping the kind of destructive retributive-only justice we maintain which only seems to be perpetuating more and more criminals and wrongdoing.
  93. Arthur, the greater point I was trying to make by talking about the two facets of care was to suggest that Arbus may have wanted the viewer (or may have been experiencing this herself) to experience that desire to run away as part of the "education" of the viewer in how to care in a more unselfish or at least a deeper way. If the viewer could be made to see and care despite a desire to look away and run (which her photographs might induce), perhaps the viewer could be made to care a bit more deeply than is possible with a quick dose of compassion.
  94. Fred-
    Plato's ethical determinism and the role of knowledge are indeed relevant. There is a fight going on in my country between the government and liberals (small l) over the incarceration or not of young teenagers caught in criminal acts. Many of the liberals prefer an approach akin to Plato and not a lock them up and throw away the key approach. It is split a bit along regional lines, with Quebec and some of the older eastern provinces rejecting incarceration in favour of other more educative overseeing of the young offenders. The same east-west split occurs for the gun question (limted accessibility and mandatory registration and control). And the same penal argument occurs for adult crimes, where a concensus has developed that rehabilitation is the best route, at least one that should be invoked. Not universally popular, but at least being practiced to some extent (some prisons are federal, others are provincial, like your states)
    I mixed up retired Professor Mrs. Noddings name with Goldins. Your example of Arbus and her ethics is likely very apt. By presenting her subjects in that objective way she didn't turn us away from any pre-conceived notions of what she thought of them which she might otherwise have implied in her photos. I do think they educated many of us in seeing others differently, adding to our knowledge, sensing the nature of their private worlds and inciting us to think about their life, and consequently caring more for them and the situations they represent. Just like I don't have all the answers why my Japanese friend decided to take his life, I really don't know whether the sadness or plight of some of her subjects led her to do the same. Perhaps someone close to her would have that insight and it may well have been recorded. However, that knowledge is secondary to the fact of her images and the quality of what she communicated.
  95. Wouter W:
    Photography always has a tendency to objectify.
    In what sense? Isn't that a (potentially wrong) assumption of the viewer?​
    I've spent a lot of time trying to pin down my answer to this ... too much time. I can do it short and quick or maunder on about it for pages and pages, which would be both inhumane to readers and straining the off topic limits, so here's the short and quick version.
    There may indeed be viewer assumption dimension to it, but that's not what I meant. I have come to the conclusion that it is an unconscious conspiracy of author and viewer and culture and mechanism. I had the latter two in mind when I made my insufficiently considered comment.
    Remember that I am talking about a tendency to objectify, not inevitable objectivisation. We are talking association here, not mechanistic link. I use [item] to denote any definable feature of a field of view.
    1. When a photograph is made, it usually starts with a particular "item" catching the eye (physical or internal) of the author. That item then becomes the focus of the act of photographing and, in the process, is removed from much of it context – material (by the image frame) and temporal (by the fact of being captured in, typically, a fraction of a second).
    2. The author usually tends to emphasise the [item] which is, to her/his perception, core to the reason for making the photograph.
    3. The viewer perceives the photograph through similar (because human) mental software to the author. This usually results in a particular "item" within the frame attracting and holding attention – and that item will usually (because the author placed emphasis on it) the same one as the author was first caught by.
    4. The viewer (because that's how human perception is ) tends to focus on the primary item of interest.
    So, we have a four stage chain of refinement in which a particular [item] is repeatedly emphasised as the core element of an envisioning.
    The result is a tendency to transmute the [item] from element of a world to object of study. Objectification.
    If that doesn't make sense ... hey, what's new :)
  96. In direct connection with this thread, and what I've said in posts above, I've received an email quoting back at me the following from an old blog post of my own. The quotation comes with some difficult questions.
    Many of my most interesting sequences are not, alas, exhibitable. Last week, for example, I shot a hundred and fifty frames during a conversation with a student; but the heart breaking psychological fragility which both made the conversation necessary and makes the resulting sequence compelling also makes it unthinkable that they should ever be shown.​
    I'm not sure how this stands in relation to what I've said here ... or what the answers are to the emailed questions ... but it is clearly evidence of “a photographic ethic” of some sort, either honoured or breached.
  97. Felix-
    With the luxury of only a few minutes to read your post and none to review what was the on-going conversation, I simply want to say that your analysis of the photographic (or in general terms, artistic) approach and the process related to the tendency to objectify (your points 1 to 4) correlates well with my own approach. What catches the eye is perhaps part of where ethics plays out first in the photographer's mind, complemented of course in how he then treats the item selected or the context within which it is photographed. It was no doubt the case of your photo series with a student, where the ethical decision was not to divulge the result. In a more geneal sense, isn't objectification a part of most art?
  98. Arthur P:
    In a more general sense, isn't objectification a part of most art?​
    Absolutely yes ... but it seems to me amplified in the specific case of still photography by the fact that the "default setting"is mechanistic recording without intervening manipulation.
    I do fully realise, before anyone points it out, that any level of manipulation at all can be applied, and a various levels do occur even if the photographer believes that s/he is working to a straight record ... BUT the photograph (which can, in principle at least, be made by a blind automaton) is not completely dependent (as a painting is, for example) upon that manipulation by the human agent for its existence.
    A painter can change the colour of the sky, or radically alter the appearance of the [item], or include additional [items], or remove them, or alter placement within the frame, or any number of other interpretations, as easily as (perhaps more easily than) s/he can make a "photographic likeness". The photograph, however, most easily records the optical image as it falls on the receiving plane. Crucially, a cultural assumption that this is so forms part of the typical reader's experience of the resulting images.
  99. Felix, that's a compelling post about objectification. Much of your description has great insight and does express a difference between photography and other visual arts. You emphasize the ways in which the photographer and viewer objectify the subject. I suggest that the photograph itself is a key object here and in that way is also similar to a painting and a sculpture. While the photograph may be acting in its capacity as a representation or showing of the item, it is also broader than that. It is an item in itself. Though many viewers are not conscious of that, it affects what they see and how they are seeing that item. There is a difference between the item and the photograph of the item.
    As photographer and as viewer, I become object as well. Perhaps that's in part because I photograph so many people. I am very aware and affected by my subjects' looking at me or even looking away from me when I photograph them. As we are in a relationship, I become object (the photographer, the guy behind the camera) as well. When I look at a portrait, I am often moved by the gaze of the subject fixing on me as viewer. Even our terminology suggests this. The person in the photograph is referred to as the subject. That makes me, photographer and/or viewer, the object at least on some level.
    Photography and art have a level of artificiality that is significant (along even with the most real aspects). The photograph is not the same as the item photographed. There is plenty of objectification to go around because the photograph (painting, sculpture) is an object as well.
    One other small addition. You say "it usually starts with a particular item catching the eye." That's an important qualification. I think many good photographs start with a vision and the item/s are chosen to fulfill/express that vision. Very often, I find the photograph to be (also) about something other than the object that's chosen. It may be about the photographer, it may be about light, about movement, about texture, about a moment. It may be a story. Of course, one can hardly ignore the subject of the photograph, but I often wonder if viewers and even some photographers don't concentrate a little too much on items and not enough on photographs.
  100. Felix, thanks for taking the time to respond to my question, it was for me mainly that the quoted remark sounded much more absolute than the rest of your posts, and a bit out of place. It now falls much much better in place. I thought of objectify as the opposite of "being subjective", and not in term of 'being an object'...Either way, much clearer now!
    In addition, I think your postings helps me remind that despite the possible disconnect between creator and viewer, the choice of focus in a photo usually helps conveying a message quite properly. Fred makes an important additional note to it, but the initial fascination will typically start with the point of focus, expand from there. The extra layers and hidden stories usually come only later on. At least, my experience so far.
  101. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    I think the ethic I do subscribe to is that anyone who sits on the darkside with ashes and woe is missing half of what life is about just as much as the people who need to have everything be happy happy. All dark is as wrong as all happy/happy).
    When I did newspaper stories on various people in our community who had either handicaps from birth or from accidents, I got the impression that people who have handicaps from birth tend to deal rather well and often rather imaginatively with the hands they were given. People who became handicapped later in life tended to be less high spirited in taking advantage of stereotypes and playing off sentimentality. People who don't see how marvelously people adapt to restrictions in their lives miss something wonderful about humans. My father went legally blind in his 70s, and figured out how to deal with this, and connected with the various agencies that send out books on tape and got a reader and had his computer set up for limited vision.
    I think what artists owe the world is more generosity and less whining.
    Last night, with my little rat-*X&$#**X&$#**X&$#**X&$#* pocket camera, I took pictures of a drag show, which I found to be an affirmation of the erotic, gender bending, and proof of the connection of art (music and dance in this case) with the erotic (and the bar was one of those wonderful places where everyone is there -- gay, lesbian, straight, trans, whatever). And I asked if I could take the pictures and I tipped the performers. I'm more sympathetic to things that show joy than things that show woe, not that I don't myself have a strong dark streak. Because I know where the dark leads, I don't want to encourage my own darkness (and I also know how self-indulgent my particular darkness is). And not having the pro gear with me make me more of a participant in the festivities and less of a Heap Big Photographer.
    If we forget arts for humans is connected to the erotic and the gustatory (the cave paintings of good things to eat), I think we end up losing our ways. It's the puritanical side of monotheistic cultures that inhibits this and tries to make the arts into something serious and painful (there's also an attempt to make art tedious so it can retain its charms as a status marker rather than risk being popular).
    Fred, you do get the connection between photography and the erotic, except with your landscape shots, which kinda suck. And your work is more playful than what I've gotten of your posts here.
    Photography is always going to be Janusian -- a recording medium and an artistic one. Art in Western culture also has a post-Renaissance tradition of being Heroic, not a craft. I suspect that much of this is so much silliness and the arts fields where the belief is more common tend to be the fields with the smallest audiences -- like poetry. We have a skill that people value because we can create language, music, and images for them. If we do something other than what they expect, it needs to be something they wanted without recognizing until they experienced what we did. If a thing doesn't get an audience for 60 years, or only has an esoteric one that makes a living off of explaining esoteric art to others, chances are we'd dealing with a non-popular delusion. Art's supposed to get us off, as one Columbia University student drug dealer who catnipped one of my brothers said.
    If photographers can do things that surprise and delight others, more power to those photographers, but the ultimate measure is in some audience which has no other personal relationship with us than our work.
    I didn't win the Phillip K. Dick for best paperback s.f. original, but my publisher said an old friend came up to her and said that I did get it (gay male sex) and my hero was very hot (she also noticed that straight guys seemed uncomfortable talking about the book). Being able to speak/illustrate for people who aren't us, to understand them, may be one of the other things art does other than connect us to our sensual selves.
    It's not that moralizing is intrinsically bad, but it's often a barrier to the sensual.
    Art is sensual first, a pleasure. If it fails to be a pleasure, it's not art, but documentation of something non-artistic.
  102. "And your work is more playful than what I've gotten of your posts here."
    For me, philosophy and photography are two very different means of expression. Each allows me to express a different but very real side of myself. I do think there is some overlap and people who know me tend to agree. But I've said before that photography is in some sense my answer to philosophy. You've hit upon the problem with judging anyone based only on one aspect of their expressions, written or visual, intellectual or creative. Most of us are multi-faceted and hard to stereotype or even pin down. That's why I think written autobiographies also have to be taken in context and are better assessed with additional information and alternative 1st-hand sources.
  103. Fred:
    Most of us are multi-faceted and hard to stereotype or even pin down.​
    Amen to that.
  104. Fred, I am not trying to offer a trivial answer here, but I think that my own general ethical principles apply to everything that I do--including photography. While it is true that there might be some rather specific corollaries that apply strictly to photography, they are surely derivable from those larger, more general principles--most obviously the Golden Rule, whether stated in the form expressed by Jesus of Nazareth or Rabbi Hilllel, or Lao Tzu, for that matter.
    In most practical situations, this approach means that, rather than to ask what my "photographic ethos" is or what my photographic ethic dictates, I simply ask: How would I feel if I were on the receiving end of all this photographic attention?
  105. I just noticed the response of Felix Grant above:
    I think I see photography (art or not) as one thing, and personal ethics as another ... but that doesn't at all mean that the first is free of the second.​
    As stated, that position is diametrically opposed to my own. It reminds me of another rather banal distinction that I cannot accept that appears in political matters: a strong distinction between public and private morality. The implication for me is that there are some things that I cannot do as a private citizen (acts of violence, for example) that I would be justified in doing if I were in some formal office. I cannot abide that way of thinking.
    Jefferson cautioned against the person who thinks that he may do one thing while acting alone, but do something else when acting in company with others. I think that he quoted Cicero to the effect, "Beware, oh Roman" [of persons who think like that].
    What Felix raises is only partially analogous, of course. There is not, after all. any ethic about acting in company with other photographers. There is yet a dual standard of ethics in his words. I am always leary of such. To me being a photographer gives me no special license whatsoever beyond what I could already justify to myself according to my personal ethics.
  106. Landrum: you've misunderstood me (or, perhaps, I've badly expressed myself).
    I was expressing exactly the same position as you, I think.
    I do not have a separate photographic ethic because my general ethics are my guide in photography as in everything else.
  107. Sorry, Felix. I did misunderstand.
    I guess that your last remark pretty much sums up my position too.
  108. Felix/Landrum, yes, our photographic ethic will be based on our ethics in general. I didn't mean to suggest that we would have a different set of values or a different approach to ethics when we are photographing than in the rest of our lives. But ethics, to me, are significant when they are applied and not just in the abstract. And, just like there are medical ethics and legal ethics, there are photographic ethics. For example, in medical ethics we may face a situation where we can help hundreds of people for the same cost that a very expensive operation to save one person might cost. So the ethical dilemma will involve using limited resources, will involve prognoses, treatment options, etc. In environmental ethics, we may face a situation where allowing certain animals to kill each other off, though seemingly horrendous from an animal rights point of view, could be necessary to the preservation of a portion of the environment. We may look to golden rules and Jesus or rabbis for guidance, but we will have to apply those basic tenets to very individual and nuanced situations.
    My question was twofold: 1) What kinds of situations come up in photography where you do have to consider the ethical ramifications of your actions? 2) Do you deal with subjects in your photography that are ethical in nature? For number 1, a situation I can think of is that, though I may have a release from a model for nude photos, if that person changes their mind at a later date, I would not hold them to the contract. I would not show photos that a subject does not wish me to show. That's my own photographic ethics. In business, I might have a very different approach to a contract and might not let someone out of their contractual agreement so readily. For number 2, I photograph middle aged gay guys a lot, partially to give a human face to a group of people that is often discussed in the abstract. I try to treat them as individuals. There is an ethical aspect to my photographic message.
    Thanks for your responses so far.
  109. What we think of ethics in the United States is different than that of Europe and Asia. In the United States people are uptight, rude, and disrespectful. If one is like this what do they have the right to judge the work of Jock Sturgis and others that do photography of nude young children? I do not find it unethical at all, because of what I have seen in Europe and Asia. People are open minded and free to express themselves. They are outgoing and nudism is everywhere. Here in the US people worry too much and are to uptight. One does not look at the picture and see the beauty of it. They look at it and see a nude child. Whoopy-do! We are all born nude, so what is wrong with being nude. The pictures are not sexual in anyway and display the beauty of a young body that glimmers in the late summer sun. I find the work beautiful, not unethical.

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